Trapit Launches iPad App to Serve Up Mobile Content Recommendations

In April we covered Trapit, a personalized content discovery engine that came out of the CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) project, a research project that spawned Siri, which is now best known as Apple’s smart assistant. Today Trapit is debuting their first iPad app, which gives users an alternative to tablet news readers like Flipboard and Zite.

Trapit, which has been web-only until now, allows users to make “traps” based on news sources or topics. Those traps are then updated with relevant news and sources, and they learn as users interact with them. In April Trapit was pulling content from 100,000 sources, and that number has since jumped to 120,000 sources (though Nothhaft said they removed about 10,000 sources in order to maintain quality). The company is now serving just under five million recommendations into traps per day, up from four million in April.

Founder Hank Nothhaft, who likes to call Trapit a virtual personal assistant for web content, told BetaKit in an interview that the iPad app is all about “enabling that casual discovery experience.” Users can either view their existing traps, or create a new trap based on a topic or publication. Users can swipe through an overall list of traps, or enter a trap to view individual articles. Trapit displays the first few sentences of a given piece of content, and users can view the full original content source within the app, and it doesn’t block ads or the ability to leave comments. Users can also share articles via social networks or email, similar to the web app, and a discovery feed shows all the latest content that has been added to a trap since the app was last used. “The goal is both to maximize both the lean-back experience and the second screen experience,” Nothhaft said about the app.

Trapit’s web and iPad offerings are both free for users, and Nothhaft said they plan to introduce subscription plans down the road, both for users and publishers. They’re also still planning to give publishers the ability to advertise and sell premium articles and content within traps. Nothhaft said they’ve also had interest from publishers who want to white-label the platform to promote their own offerings. The company raised $6 million in Series A funding in December 2011, led by Horizons Ventures, which also backed Siri.

When it was web-only Trapit competed with news aggregation and discovery services like Prismatic, and now that it has debuted its tablet app, it competes with iPad content discovery apps like Flipboard, Pulse and Zite, as well as tools like Pressly and Onswipe that help individual publishers bring their offerings to the tablet. “What’s different here is that we’re much more like a browser in the sense that we provide the user a lot more control,” he said. “We’re not just repackaging your social feeds.”

The company will be releasing a native iPhone app in the fall, and implementing their revenue plans. “We believe a winning strategy is a multiple-platform strategy, so we will continue to invest in the web,” Nothhaft said. “Now that we think we’ve raised the bar with the iPad app, you can expect that we will continue to re-invest in the web app, and bring it up to speed with what we’re doing on the iPad.”

After last week’s underwhelming Digg acquisition (the company sold to Betaworks for a reported $500,000 after raising $45 million in funding), some are asking what the future of news aggregation will look like. Betaworks plans to integrate Digg into its News.me tool, which at present is just a daily email digest of the top articles based on what your social media contacts shared the previous day. But if News.me refocuses as a news aggregation app, it could prove to be stiff competition. For Trapit, which has solid AI tech behind it and a lot of traction to date, they might have a chance to set the direction, rather than follow a former industry leader.

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.

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