Personalized news aggregator Zite, acquired by CNN in September, is going strong. Today it launches its first iPhone app, and earlier this week it began testing an innovative business model.
“So far CNN has been an ideal partner,” Zite CEO Mark Johnson told me. While the Zite team is now looking at ways to employ its personalization algorithm on CNN.com, more than 80 percent of development time is still spent on the core Zite service. “They [CNN] are letting us grow, they’re letting us expand, they’re letting us try new things.”
Zite adapted its signature iPad app to an iPhone app launched Friday, making it available to millions more people in the same week that Flipboard made the same leap and Google launched a new, cross-platform news reading app.
Although there’s a lot of competition, Zite is confident because its technology saves the most time for on-the-go iPhone users, Johnson said. Flipboard pursued the same goal by adding a personalized “cover stories” section to its iPhone app. But with Zite, personalization is the whole point.
“Because we have this personalized experience, we can deliver the right stuff for you, really quickly,” Johnson said. “The worst thing about a phone is trying to sift through anything, because you’ve got a really small interface. It’s not good for searching, it’s not good for looking, it’s not good for browsing. You really want to get the stuff you want really quickly.”
Meanwhile, on Monday the company announced its first “branded section.” Fitness apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica sponsors a content channel that aggregates personal health and fitness content — “things that inspire and challenge us.”
This is a creative approach that holds some promise, because it’s not traditional advertising and it’s not just promotional press releases from the company. Fitness-minded readers get value from authentic, personalized content like healthy recipes and yoga workouts. And Lululemon builds a brand relationship with the fitness-minded readers it wants as customers.
“I really think it’s a new way for brands to interact with customers,” Johnson said. “One thing we learned at Zite over the past few months is that brands are producing a lot of content, and they’re not very good content producers, and they’re terrible distributors. They know they need to produce this content to interact with their customers, but they have no idea how to get it to them.”
This business model is uniquely suited to how Zite works, but other news orgs may draw inspiration by thinking of ways in their own products to create value for businesses and audiences at the same time.