Flipboard Acquires Zite to Make Curated Content More Personal

Zite CTO Mike Klaas (L) and Flipboard CEO Mike McCue (R). Photo credit: Flipboard

On Wednesday, a company acquired the digital magazine publisher platform Zite for the second time. This time it’s by its main competitor Flipboard in an all-stock transaction with CNN.

You might remember that CNN picked up Zite in 2011 for $20 million. The deal will result in the closure of Zite, and the team will move over to Flipboard’s offices, except for CEO Mark Johnson, who will depart to pursue other ventures.

Read more about the deal here, but what makes this fascinating is it opens up an incredible opportunity for Flipboard to get more personal in what users are reading on its mobile apps. Mike McCue, Flipboard’s co-founder and CEO, said in a blog post:

Adding Zite’s expertise in personalization and recommendations to Flipboard’s product experience and powerful curator community will create an unparalleled personal magazine for our millions of readers.

McCue acknowledges that users have been requesting easier discovery of content centered around things that matter to them. The company began experimenting with this capability through the redesign of its Cover Stories in January. In that case, Flipboard would surface key content that a user subscribed to in the most popular section, allowing them to easily digest what’s happening in their world. At the time, the company’s other co-founder Evan Doll told me that over time, the service would learn about your reading behavior and recommend new content from subscribed sections.

That Amazon-like recommendation engine has just received a big boost through the impending integration of Zite’s platform. While many people viewed the two companies as competitors, Johnson disagreed, saying that Zite’s focus was different — it’s about topics, not publications. It billed itself up as a personalized magazine that “gets smarter as you use it” providing users with “tailored, engaging content” from numerous publishers on the Internet. In a sense, you might think of it as being very Pandora-like or maybe compare it to Prismatic and other news recommendation services.

One issue with Flipboard is that, with all of its magazines created by both its editorial team and self-made ones, finding out which stories are new can be an ordeal. The magazines also depend on users updating them instead of being done programmatically. With Zite’s algorithm, users may see multiple stories about a particular topic recommended to them to add to their magazine.

In January, Doll shared with me that Flipboard’s update to Cover Stories was the beginning of a new feature the company was working on to help the app surface interesting content for users. Whether Zite was in the picture at the time remains a mystery, but now that it’s going to be a part of the family, things could begin to get more personal … maybe a blend of Facebook’s News Feed and Prismatic’s algorithm.

Photo credit: Zite co-founder and CTO Mike Klaas and Flipboard CEO Mike McCue via Flipboard

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