With Flipboard, Zite, Prismatic, News360, Pulse, Thirst, and a bunch of others vying to be the world’s best newsreader, it would seem there’s little room for late arrivals. But a small startup from Greece thinks it can offer a point of differentiation by mimicking biological systems to provide readers with a dynamically personalized and responsive reading experience on the Web.
Noowit is the work of Nikolaos Nanas, a research fellow at the Institute of Research and Technology Thessaly in central Greece. (It is so far available only in closed beta, but you can take part in that by signing up here.) Nanas, who has a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, says Noowit is based on a model inspired by the immune system and Autopoiesis, a theory of biological self-organization. The reader uses an information filtering system to evaluate each article according to your evolving interests and edits each “magazine” accordingly. Each article occupies a space on the page that is proportional to your interests.
Noowit, Nanas says, continuously self-organizes to adapt to changes in your interests over time. When a new article comes into the system, your profile “reads” it and assigns it a relevance score. Then Noowit calculates the number of articles on each page and assigns each of them an area within the page that corresponds to how relevant it is to you. Furthering the reader’s responsiveness, Nanas has developed the system so that it adjusts to any browser size.
As well as offering a personalized reader, Noowit has its own publication, called “Discover,” which is what you’ll first encounter on visiting the site. Nanas plans to use “Discover” as a way to showcase content from paying partners. You can add content from each issue to your own “magazine” by clicking a “MAGit” button within the publication. This attempt at monetization seems optimistic at best given that Noowit is supposed to be putting personalization front and center. It seems odd that a curated magazine filled with sponsored content should be prioritized above the customized reading experience on which Noowit prides itself.
There are elements in Noowit’s design, too, that are also somewhat confusing. For instance, when you click into an article, you are presented with the story published in its original format but with a Noowit toolbar spanning the top of the page. Counter-intuitively you have to hit “X” (that is, the close tab button) to return to the page from which you came, while back-forward arrows will lead you on to other articles in the “magazine.” The page-by-page navigation within each “magazine” is also a little confusing. You hit a side arrow to move from section to section, and an up/down to move between pages – but it’s not clear why the sections are required in the first place.
Clearly that business model needs some work, too. Noowit wants to help publishers “reach the right readers” by promising to use its relevancy algorithms to match content to users, but if readers feel like publishers can pay to get their content higher priority, they will likely lose trust in the system.
Noowit, though, has to make money somehow. Nanas hasn’t been able to secure funding for the reader, which is likely in no small part due to Greece being in the midst of a painful economic crisis. So he will be relying on revenue to keep it alive. Perhaps his best hope is that a larger company will buy the technology, which is the best thing about Noowit.
Nanas plans to launch Noowit into open beta on July 1, the day Google Reader shuts down. In the meantime, you can get access to Noowit’s private beta here.