A British child who wasn’t born when I started journalism training has made an estimated $30 million from an app that automates the process of summarizing news. But hey, I’m not bitter.
Nick D’Alosio created Summly two years ago when he was 15. It’s an app that uses a fully automated process to take popular news stories and summarize them in 400 characters, the idea being that it is just enough to fit on a phone screen without the need for scrolling. Users can swipe through stories at a glance, then click to follow a link to the original source if they want to read more.
D’Alosio originally created the app, which was originally known as Trimit, as a way to save himself reading time when trying to get the main points of online sources while carrying out research for his school studies.
I briefly looked at Summly when it was first released. I found it did a surprisingly good job of automatically creating complete sentences written in natural language, which is certainly a tough task given the utterly inconsistent nature of English. However, I didn’t find the app so successful at always picking out the most important points of the original article.
When Summly launched and quickly rose up the free apps charts, the obvious question was how D’Alosio would make cash. It didn’t seem like an app people would pay for and there was no obvious space to smoothly integrate advertising. At the time, D’Alosio spoke of the possibility of licensing the technology so that website owners could have a “Summly feed” of relevant stories on their site.
Now he’s found a better solution: selling the app to Yahoo for a sum that’s undisclosed but widely believed to be in eight figures. All Things Digital says its sources have more specifics: it’s US$30 million (90 percent cash, 10 percent in Yahoo stock), with the money buying the app outright along with D’Alosio’s services for 18 months. The app itself will shortly be withdrawn, with the technology behind it to be built into Yahoo’s own services.
Whether Yahoo can actually make back the money by exploiting the technology remains to be seen. Indeed, some more cynical folk have even suggested the move is a (very expensive) way to make the company look more cutting edge.