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Summly deal highlights smartphone's impact

Craig Timberg (via SMH) | April 1, 2013
Many this week celebrated the latest tech wunderkind, a British teenager who made a fortune selling an app that boils down news reports, no matter how important or complex, to a pithy 400 characters.

Nick D'Aloisio.

Wunderkind: Nick D'Aloisio.

Many this week celebrated the latest tech wunderkind, a British teenager who made a fortune selling an app that boils down news reports, no matter how important or complex, to a pithy 400 characters.

But for those who prefer heartier servings of news, the development carried at least a whiff of the apocalypse.

For perspective: on Summly, the app that Yahoo! bought from 17-year-old Nick D'Aloisio for $US30 million, this article would already be done, having ended midway through the word "D'Aloisio".

The Summly app.

The Summly app.

 

His fortune-making insight was that people on the go - in line for a coffee or killing time between innings of a cricket match - may want no more information than can fit on the screen of a smartphone.

This service is made possible not by underpaid 20-somethings, as was typical for earlier generations of news aggregators, but by an algorithm designed to cull the essence of reports from traditional news sources.

"They're just making it easier to take readers away," grumbled a veteran newspaper company analyst, John Morton. "Even in the digital world, it is taking work away from humans."

But having computers reduce news to handy digests is not, by itself, a revolution. Yahoo! has long sent automated news reports on fantasy football game results to team owners.

Rather, the rise of Summly highlights how much the future of news and information is being shaped around the peculiar features of smartphones, which are small, perpetually online and rarely far from the restless hands of their owners.

There are more than 1 billion mobile devices in the world, and almost everywhere they are upending business models. That includes those of the winners of previous rounds of tech disruption, such as Yahoo! which grew strong on the spread of high-speed internet connections to desktop and laptop computers, spiking demand for online news, information and other popular content.

Yahoo!'s chief executive Marissa Mayer bought Summly to position the company better for the shift towards mobile devices.

 

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