Startup NextStories wants to encourage readers to jump from one article to the next on the web, across publications but while following contextually related materials. It’s a little like Sailthru, but instead of running on a site and directing readers to additional content also within that site, users install and then click on a bookmarklet in their browser and are then presented with an automatically-generated list of related articles on other publications around the web.
NextStories is the latest from steps2next, a Czech development studio that has built a number of products since being acquired by Axel Spring AG, one of Germany’s largest media companies. The latest venture from the team focuses on providing the kinds of recommendations that are common on social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and also works as a kind of twist on the curation and aggregation approach taken by startups like Flipboard. The twist, and what NextStories thinks sets it apart from any other tool out there, is that it lives in the browser and integrates with people’s existing practice of stumbling upon and reading content on the web.
“There are many news recommendation services out there. Through social networks you can get recommendations from people you subscribe to or you can discover trending stories from voting systems,” steps2next CEO Ondej Bobal explained in an interview. “But our approach provides something unique. You can display snapshots of stories from similar sites over the current page with one click through our bookmarklet. That means you have very quick access to dozens stories similar to the current website you are viewing.”
For example, a reader could be reading about the next iPhone on Mashable, hit the bookmarklet (once installed), and be presented with similar articles from sources across the web, from a pool that currently includes about 100 tech blogs. There’s no subscription or registration process required, and NextStories doesn’t need a user’s personal information to work, since it’s looking at content they’re already browsing for clues about what to serve next. Bobal sees it as a complimentary tool to sharing services like Twitter, and to other traffic-generating tools aimed at publishers like Sailthru.
In terms of revenue, with no registration requirement and no ads, Bobal says the opportunities lie with the publishers themselves. “We are not going to sell ads, but rather allow publishers to promote their content among hundreds of sources related to each news site,” he said. “So there isn’t going to be anything that would distract readers from the news content.”
It’s a strategy that could work, but first NextStories will have to build a significant user base in order to make the advantages of promotion for publishers obvious. If NextStories genuinely can push traffic, people might be willing to pay, but that’ll require that it becomes a significant traffic source first. And progress in that regard could be hindered by the fact that, unlike with a Sailthru or other on-page tool, NextStories must be installed by each and every end user in order to be available, and even that slight amount of friction could prove too much for many readers.
To attract more users and keep them engaged, NextStories plans on introducing a tool that allows for conversations around content, but “only with compatible people,” Bobal says, though he didn’t elaborate on what would determine compatibility. In the end, NextStories presents an attractive picture of the web as an open-ended, free-flowing continuous thematic newspaper, but ultimately it’ll need to gain wide adoption to make that vision feasible in the long run.