Teen tech entrepreneur and Yahoo’s project manager of mobile and emerging platforms spoke to Claire Vanner at Mobile World Conference about his latest app.
How does the Yahoo News Digest app work?
The premise behind the product is to basically produce a summary of summaries. There’s a whole generation of people who want to be informed and intelligent when it comes to current affairs and information but don’t necessarily have the time, so we’re trying to make that process as efficient as possible. We’ve done that through the finite nature of the sources. You can read the eight or nine stories and you get to the bottom and you’re done.
The other part of the product is the notion of definitiveness – once in the morning and once in the evening we publish these digests and the premise behind the digest is to quickly inform the users of all the stories they should know about.
Is the Yahoo News Digest app similar to your Summly app?
We’ve taken the same premise, which was to summarise information but we’ve totally reinvented the way we’re doing that. Both conceptionally and technically it’s very similar – we’re using the same technology and the algorithms, although they’ve been improved. Where we’ve innovated is in the form of the content so instead of just taking one article and producing a textual summary, we’re taking a cluster of articles and from that we’re producing a multi-document summary.
Are you looking to make news shareable on social media through the app?
It’s something we’re continuing to experiment with internally and look to develop a specialist product and I do think there’s an interesting opportunity around social.
I think there’s definitely a redundancy [of news] there’s so much news coming through social networks that it’s harder and harder to decide what to read. That does allow for a product like News Digest to thrive, probably more so this year than in any other year today on the internet.
Are you looking to monetise the app?
There is a scale to which we look at monetisation, but again it’s not really quantative, it’s more how we see growth in terms of retention. Definitely this kind of product with the notion of these atoms [of news], definitely lends itself to native advertising because it would not be intrusive to stick an atom which is actually a native ad form in there. So it’s quite interesting.
The app reached number one in the news category on The App Store and Play, how many downloads are you aiming to get?
I don’t see it in terms of numbers quantatively, it’s more qualitative. The fact that we have 5/5 star reviews on the app store in UK and US currently and we’re number one in those rankings, that’s more exciting to me at this stage of the product. Looking at retention, the sentiment of the users vs quantity. So my goals are around do we get the 4 and 5 star reviews on the app store, do we get the engagement? That’s what I want to perfect.
What trends in the app market are you excited by?
Things that I’ve noticed that are really interesting are anonymity in applications, things like Secret and Whisper, which are happening in 2014. I think that’s a really interesting use case.
The other one is ephemerality. SnapChat, for example has content that disappears automatically after a set period of time and that for me is really interesting as a concept. It’s kind of counter-intuitive.
To have achieved so much by the age of 19, how do you feel about the comparisons drawn between you and Mark Zuckerberg?
I don’t really take notice of things like that. Clearly it’s nice that people say these sorts of things but I want people to praise the app, not me, that’s what I care about. I get most excited when I see the reviews on the app store, that’s what I’m more proud of.
The admiration I have for someone like Mark Zuckerberg is that when he had that idea [of Facebook] he stuck through it to the end and that long form endurance is something that is missing in today’s technology world. So if I ever start another company I will be inspired by that notion of staying in it for the long term and building on something. I do admire that characteristic of him.
What else are you working on at the moment with Yahoo?
I can’t really hint to that, but I’m always trying to collaborate with the other teams at Yahoo. It really is an immersive start up culture here, so it’s really exciting. I’ve really enjoyed being able to build a product like this internally and learning how that process works it something I’ve found really enjoyable.