The Long Road to “Prismatic for iPhone”

On February 24, 2012, a friend of mine, who happened to be an angel investor in a new “social news” startup, intro’d me to the founder. With my eyes rolling, I typed a friendly message back, which ignited a 40+ Gmail thread between me and the founder, who I could only assume given his strong use of language and defiant attitude, was a founder who was going into battle not only with no sword, but no shield. I shared my thoughts on the space, as an avid consumer of feeds like Twitter and Quora, and well, he shared his. Forcefully. That initial exchange led to more, a few phone conversations, and over time, he started to convince me that he actually knew what he was talking about. And, we became friends, and I started weighing in a bit more with my opinions on the product, but I don’t think he really heard them — thankfully!

Fast forward to July of this year, when I joined Javelin as an EIR for a few months. This founder — @bradfordcross — had also taken money from Javelin, so now I was able to spend a bit more time with him and his team as they geared up for launching Prismatic for iPhone. I’m biased now, because I’m friends with Bradford and I’ve hung out at the Prismatic offices too many times (and learned a ton from them about the nuts and bolts of distribution), but I want to underscore two things. One, if you’re a heavy Twitter user like me, you should download the app. You’ll be amazed at what it will already “know” about your personal and professional interests. (Additionally, I already know my wife will use it as her main news app because she can’t get into Twitter’s native feed and doesn’t like the other news aggregators out there.) Two, the Prismatic team deserves a real round of applause for this iPhone app, everything from the custom gestures built into the UI to the sheer, brute force by which they brought their machine learning technologies to such a small form factor.

The “news” category is a merciless minefield. There’s a lot of competition and no shortage of “social news” readers. I was very skeptical. But, I think they really have something here with Prismatic for iPhone. It’s one of the few products out there I’ve seen that truly leverages all of your social graph information to create a new, personalized product. For instance, it created a channel just for my hometown, something that doesn’t exist anywhere that I know of. That’s powerful. And, it scales. A few weeks ago, gearing up for this launch, we wrote on the white board, “Prismatic puts a personalized newsfeed in the palm of your hand.” That’s the headline, and it’s the news that’s fit to print.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus