You may think you’ve heard and seen it all when it comes to apps for content personalization and discovery. It’s a crowded field, but as yet, there’s no clear winner.
Theneeds, a new service that wants to help you “discover the best of the web based on your interests,” just released its first mobile app.
It’s currently only available on iOS, but the company plans to land on Android this summer.
In short, it combines content sources, machine learning, and community to bring people content tailored to their interests and consumption behaviors. It pulls from thousands of sources (popular sites, news blogs, Pinterest, etc.) and uses sophisticated algorithms to filter content it deems relevant to them.
The team has been working on this project for a couple of years. The idea came from frustrations with content being spread around separate websites and apps, without anything funneling it into one place. The team also found that existing “solutions” (if we can call them that) are quite solitary experiences.
By now, the more jaded among you might be tiptoeing back to your Flipboards, Zites, Facebook Papers, and Twitters.
But hold your horses — there is something interesting to see here.
Unlike news aggregation apps like Flipboard and Zite, or even real-time “information network” Twitter, Theneeds has two things going for it: actual machine learning technology and algorithms, and using the power of community to vet content. In this respect, its main inspirations are Pandora and Reddit.
“Pandora is a great example of how personalization matters, [and] Reddit is a great example of how the community matters,” cofounder Gabriele Pansa told VentureBeat.
These two distinct inspirations are actually the non-B.S. keys to Theneeds’ interesting concept.
The founding team includes scientists — scientists, I say! — and between the three of them, they have experience in product strategy, data science, and a total of three Ph.Ds, two in computer science and one in mathematics. They also have advisors from top companies such as McKinsey and Cisco.
Theneeds’ technology tracks thousands of behavioral signals, from up and down votes, to sharing and even clicks. It also adapts as your use of the app progresses.
Existing news aggregators (and even Twitter) don’t do this, according to Pansa. “They don’t provide the dynamic experience that evolves as your interests evolve,” he said.
The other half of this is the community. Just as Reddit (and Hacker News and others) uses its readers’ voting to bring popular content to the top of various lists, Theneeds considers other people’s interactions with each piece of content as well as how that content is faring in social media.
Redefining ‘interesting content’
Right off the bat, Theneeds reminds me of two other attempts at redesigning content consumption based on interests: Facebook’s Paper and N3twork’s mobile app.
Paper, Facebook’s reimagination of how its users “read” their feeds (going with that “morning paper” analogy), revolves around the idea that people mostly care about what their friends and family care about — meaning, what’s happening on their Facebook feed.
Theneeds shows there’s much more relevant content beyond one’s Facebook feed.
N3twork is the opposite of Facebook and its idea of following content because friends and family care about it. N3tworks reorganizes the Web’s content into topic channels.
So you could say that Theneeds is somewhere in between. It organizes content into “channels” of topics, factors in social relevancy, adds Pandora-style machine learning, and invites the community to further vet its content.
Frankly, it’s hard to tell if Pansa and his cofounders will be able to convince people to adopt their new app and service — that’ll be a tough battle. It’s also hard to tell if this really is how we should begin to consume our content.
But Pansa did make a good concluding point: “As the Internet is growing at a more and more fast pace, it would be really important to put in a filter.”