Shark Swarm

One month removed from the much-hyped re-launch of its news summary app for iOS, and the simultaneous announcement of $1 million in new financing, Summly is peeling back the kimono today to reveal just how popular its improved service has become.

Summly offers readers concise yet comprehensive 350 word summaries of news items. The company relies on semantic technologies like natural language processing and machine learning to parse the author’s own words and determine the most relevant bits to share. The underlying technology was impressive at the time of its launch more than a year ago, but the early experience lacked a bit of polish. The reinvented Version 2.0 product seems to have struck a chord with its users.

Between November 1 and December 1, the app created by 17-year-old British wonderkid Nic D’Aloisio was downloaded more than half a million times and was ranked No. 1 in the iTunes App Store news category in 28 countries, including the US, UK, and Canada. The app was also voted Apple Editors’ Choice App of the Week in 48 countries.

During its first four weeks time, users spent an average of 21 minutes-plus per month in the app and read more than 30 million summarized news items – which the company calculates equates to an aggregate of 28 years of reading time saved but its users (although the methodology behind this figure is not entirely clear). The most popular categories were Technology, Entertainment, and Business, while The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and TechCrunch were the leading individual sources.

So what’s it all add up to? A few things. First, there’s little arguing that we are all overwhelmed with digital content and constantly seeking better ways to find the signal amid the noise. Summly cuts straight to the heart of this problem. There are no shortage of companies trying to solve this problem in the mobile environment, most notably Flipboard and Pulse. But these prominent services focus on delivering full-length content rather than bite-sized overviews, which Summly seems to have nailed.

Secondly, its obvious that thoughtful product design can have a significant impact on user experience. As fantastic as the technology underlying Summly is, and as much as it improved between versions, the more intuitive and attractive user interface seems to have a substantial impact on adoption levels. Consider this further evidence that it’s not only important to deliver the function, but also to do so in a form factor that is adequately pleasing, and ideally even magical, to its users users.

It’s all quite impressive for a scrappy team from London led by a not-your-average-teenager and competing in an extremely crowded market. To quote Summly from the conclusion of its “First Month by the Numbers” blog post:

7 employees
6 pairs of colored trousers
10 languages spoken
2 years of high school left for the founder
And a partridge in a pear tree