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Browsing is flawed — on the Web, but even more so on mobile. That’s the message Trapit co-founder Hank Nothhaft conveyed to me as he demoed his solution to the problem: a Trapit iPad application that uses artificial intelligence to deliver personalized content.
Trapit is the two-year-old, venture-backed intelligent discovery engine that hails from CALO, the same DARPA-commissioned artificial-intelligence project that birthed Apple’s Siri. The company’s eight-month-old product serves up nearly 5 million content recommendations a day from 120,000 human-vetted sources to consumers who use the tool to find fresh news, videos, articles, recipes, and images on the topics that interest them most.
“Here we want to bring the Web to the user and make it really seamless to browse,” Nothhaft said, highlighting the limitations of browsers and a search-and-seek approach to finding content on mobile. “We do that with a topic-based, personalized approach.”
Trapit for iPad fetches content for people across their pre-defined “traps,” or areas of interest, but it does so in a way that’s meant to be even more visually and mentally pleasing than the company’s Web offering.
The application features a fluid interface that caters to the whims of the consummate mobile browser. Traps expand and give way to a smattering of content selected for each individual. Those using the application can touch a selection to enlarge it and from there click to consume, saving the content to their reading lists for later, sharing it to social networks, or choosing to provide feedback in the way of a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down vote to help Trapit get better at making spot-on recommendations.
The application also offers people a way to browse a wide variety of content across hundreds of curated traps, and it helps them create new traps with suggestions covering categories like entertainment, business, and science.
“We’ve finally found the right interface to convey … that our underlying approach and technology is radically different and much more capable and flexible [than news readers],” Nothhaft said, addressing the company’s critics.
Trapit, however, has yet to reach the recognition level of artificial-intelligence sibling Siri, let alone command the same type of attention as mobile-friendly content discovery apps Flipboard and StumbleUpon. The service has just hundreds of thousands of active patrons as of June. Nothhaft is confident, however, that mobile will draw new users to Trapit.
“What we’re not doing is presenting a fixed taxonomy of the world where [individuals] have to subscribe to different feeds or just repackaging an existing social feed,” he said. “We’re much more than just a beautiful container for content.”