The New Cool Kids: Teenage-App Developers

Seventeen-year-old Nick D'Aloisio is fueling headlines over his news-summary app Summly, but he's not the only teenage-app maker in town. Here's a look at the rising trend.

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By Dinah Wisenberg Brin

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UPDATE: Summly just got acquired by Yahoo for a reported $30 million. The news reading app will be shut down, but its technology will be used by Yahoo. As part of the deal, the 17-year-old founder of Summly Nick D'Aloisio, along with two other employees will join Yahoo. Because of his expressed ambition and desire to continue his entrepreneurial endeavors, D'Aloisio only committed to 18 months with the technology giant.

There was a time when the captain of the football team attracted the admiration and envy of classmates, some of whom no doubt secretly hoped the guy would peak in high school.

OK, maybe those days aren't over. But today, school kids may also direct their attention toward traditional nerd havens like the school's technology club, where computer-savvy whiz kids could be developing the next big mobile app or internet tool on their way to software stardom.

Teenage app makers like British developer Nick D'Aloisio, 17, have been busy working up new applications for mobile devices and drawing the interest of well-established internet companies.

Related: How One Teenage Trep Snubbed College to Build an Apps Empire

D'Aloisio has launched Summly, a news-summarization mobile app that's receiving widespread media, investor and user attention. D'Aloisio, a student, taught himself to code at 12, started developing iPhone apps in 2008, and received his first investment at 15 from Hong Kong billionaire-businessman Li Ka Shing, who also has backed Siri, Spotify and Facebook, according to Summly's website.

In early December, Summly, which claims Ashton Kutcher and Zynga founder Marc Pincus among its list of angel investors and advisors, said it had more than 500,000 users who had read more than 30 million summaries in the four weeks since it launched its iPhone app.

Now, according to a recent report in All Things Digital, Yahoo has been meeting with D'Aloisio and is considering acquiring Summly, although it said no offer had been made.

Summly didn't immediately respond to an e-mail request for an interview with D'Aloisio.

Related: Making Freedom Part of the Business Model: How a Young Trep Helped Fuel the Arab Spring

While Summly's star may be rising, D'Aloisio isn't the only teenager to find success as a digital inventor and entrepreneur. He's also hardly the only teenage-app maker.

In 2011, high-school student Daniil Kulchenko, then 15, sold his Seattle cloud-computing company, Phenona, to ActiveState of Vancouver, B.C., which said it made the purchase "to move quickly into the cloud space."

Then there's Thomas Suarez, a developer focused on Apple's iOS platform, who, at age 12, had devised what's described as a Whack-a-Mole-type game called Bustin Jieber, which sells for 99 cents. in June noted that Apple this year for the first time welcomed 13- to -17-year-olds to its developer conference as technology companies seek ways to attract youngsters to their games and learning apps.

Related: Apple and the Kid App Maker Revolution

Obviously, times are changing. School kids aren't just looking to the homecoming king and queen for guidance on how to be cool. They're watching the careers of Mark Zuckerberg, Nick D'Aloisio and others, thinking to themselves, "why not me?"

At this point in their early careers, however, many young developers may be making little more than what they earn from app downloads. Only the cream of the crop is able to seriously flirt with a big payday.

Regardless, these coders and entrepreneurs of tender years may have found a calling, and we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves downloading their apps, or using other tools they've yet to invent, in years to come.

What entrepreneur icon most inspires you? Let us know who and why in the comments below.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has covered business, politics, healthcare and general news for wire services, newspapers, blogs and other publications.

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