The Summly summary: the 16-year-old who wants to stop us being ‘inundated with drivel’

…with a little help from Stephen Fry.

The pitch is this: Summly is an app developed by 16-year-old Briton Nick D’Aloisio that writes news summaries using an algorithm, making bite sized pieces of news that are easy to consume on a mobile screen – and if you want to read a longer version you can click on from there.

It has the potential to be the most disruptive publishing app of the year, if not the decade. While big-brand publishers are working themselves into a knot to make their content sing on precious mobile-screen real estate, D’Aloisio’s algorithm is tailoring news articles into ‘human’ 400 character summaries – that crucial bit bigger that Twitter.
The app has just gone live on the Apple App Store, downloadable for free, and is promoted with a slick marketing video featuring QI presenter and all-round ambassador for intelligence, Stephen Fry.

One particular point that Fry articulates with particular emphasis, as if for the slowies at the back of the class:

‘Get just the sentences that matter most.’

That is, the algorithm ‘that thinks just like you’ will select the good bits from the dross. A little bit like newspaper sub editors do with reporters’ raw copy. The implication of Summly is that it can automate one of the production folks’ jobs: whittling down waffle into brief bursts of news.

D’Aloisio counters that Summly is not replacing the content creators and editors, but is in fact increasing exposure to their content, according to an interview he gave to WAN/IFRA (the World Association of Newspapers blog).

D’Aloisio may be only 16 – he starting coding apps at age 12, raised first his first mill in VC funding at 15, ie ridiculously precocious but in a good way – but that’s less the point. Rather, it’s the fact that his instinct to create news product for people of his generation ie teenagers etc is actually a pitch at the whole market – anyone who uses a smartphone and hates the involved scrolling of reading a regular article on the web.

D’Aloisio is also careful to point out that he wants to partner up with publishers rather than undercut their business models, according to Stuart Dredge on his Guardian blog.

He is reported to have signed a licensing deal with News International to provide summaries of its paywalled content – the what sounds like teasers before they click through to pay for the full content.

As it’s only just out on iPhone, I’m going to have a play with it and report back… (and he’s only 16.)

PS now see the welcome video that greets users who open the Summly app on their iPhone. That’s mobile publishing technology being used well. Video and great sound in concert using every inch of that iPhone retina display. Not bad at all.

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