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As news organizations move to the web, many of them are struggling with new ways to enrich the online reading experience. Articles are often stuffed with links to background information, previews of related sites and stories and so on. Now a startup called Apture says it’s created the “next generation news experience”, one that you can try out starting today on the Washington Post’s blogs The Fix and Celebritology.

There are plenty of products trying to achieve some of Apture’s goals: Sphere, for example, provides contextual blog content through in-article links or a “Sphere It” button, and has just been purchased by AOL.

But from the brief preview I saw, Apture provides some of the best implementation of these ideas. If a reader sees a term in an article that they want to learn more about, and additional content has been enabled through Apture, they can click on that phrase, and a small window will open with the new content. For example, if a political figure you don’t know much about is mentioned in an article, you can click on their name and it might bring up the Wikipedia article; you might also be able to open additional windows showing a photo or a video of their latest public appearance. I suspect using Apture will feel at times like falling down a rabbit hole of new information, with a bunch of new windows blossoming on your screen (see screenshot below). It’s an exciting prospect, but also — since I waste so much time online already — a terrifying one.

The key is that these aren’t previews of other websites, but functional browser windows. And unlike normal links, readers can navigate the extra content without ever leaving the original article. (Also, all the additional content is created or linked to by the content provider; it’s not an automatically generated search result or ad.) Chief executive Tristan Harris describes Apture’s product as moving towards a more three-dimensional conception of a web page, pushing beyond their current functionality as “a single sheet of paper.”

By opening up a “third dimension” on the web, Apture also opens up advertising opportunities in these new windows. The San Mateo, Calif.-based startup’s business plan involves revenue sharing for these ads.

There are also competing products that work as browser plug-ins, Harris says, but that means readers need to download something before they can see the new content. With Apture, companies need to add “just one line of code” to their websites and Apture features for all their readers.

The startup is angel-funded for “less than $1 million,” Harris says. Apture should be unveiling more partnerships soon — and not just with newspapers, either, because the technology can be useful on pretty much any website.

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