Amid the swirl, mania and hype of just-in-time-for-SXSW launches, there was Zite. An iPad-only magazine app that gets smarter and more personal over time, Zite took off with 120,000 downloads in its first week. After years of Googling ourselves silly, this app serves up a modernized version of that old chestnut from the internet's inception: browsing.
"In the early days of the web there was sort of an attempt to create the browsing experience," says Ali Davar, founder and CEO of Zite, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. "Then search came along and people said ‘Who needs browsing anymore?' But with the iPad you don't want to search--you want to browse."
Built on top of technology developed at the University of British Columbia's Laboratory for Computational Intelligence for his first product, a search plug-in called Worio, Davar explains that Zite automatically learns what you like and gets smarter as you use it based on a wide range of signals that tell it something is interesting.
"Are people sharing it? Are they commenting on it? Are they tweeting? Are they tagging?" he says. "That tells us there is some social interest."
Zite's technology crawls web-wide to serve up stories to readers from mainstream news sources down to obscure blogs. Davar believes Zite helps combat one of the great issues of our time: information overload.
"Discovery is really in its infancy," he says. "You know there's all this interesting information that's out there, and yet you're not getting it."
If Zite reaches its smart potential, users should get more of the info they want in far less time than it currently takes to suss it out. "It's a problem that consumers and, I even think, experts tend to underestimate because it is a ‘you don't know what you don't know' problem," Davar says.
Zite is free to download, because Davar plans to pull in bucks through advertising. "We want the system to be really performance-oriented, and that means creating something where publishers can come in yet they don't break the user experience," he says.
By summer's end, the app will start to roll out on other mobile devices and possibly on the web. "That will be the future of Zite," Davar says. "Zite everywhere."
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