Marginized No More: Nextly Wants to Be Your Guide to Web Content

10/24/13Follow @gthuang

After a proverbial pivot, Ziad Sultan is back on the trail, looking to harness the social Web to help people browse information more efficiently.

The founder of Cambridge, MA-based Marginize has morphed his company into a new entity. It’s called Nextly, and it has raised $1.5 million from Sultan’s previous investors (on top of about $700,000 for Marginize, which was a Techstars alum). The company’s backers include SOS Ventures, Atlas Venture, Longworth Venture Partners, and tech angel investors David Cohen and Dharmesh Shah.

Here’s the idea, which Sultan has been working on for over a year. Instead of getting your news mainly from Twitter or Facebook feeds, or searching on Google, or going to media homepages (which fewer people seem to do these days anyway), what if there were a unified platform where you could see just the articles and content recommended by people and publishers you trust?

It’s the familiar concept of curation—but nobody has fully cracked it yet. Nextly is different from Flipboard, say, in that it doesn’t “scrape the content,” Sultan says. Instead, there’s a lot of software behind the scenes that lets you view pages in your Web browser, and flip to the next story by pressing the “next” button or the arrow key on your laptop. (Publishers get the traffic and page views.)

Sultan summarizes it thusly: “We’ve created a very enjoyable way to browse the Web, guided by others in a way that is shareable across devices and that benefits those who are creating the content.”

So far, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Forbes, Slate, and the Washington Post are on board as launch partners. Earlier this year, Nextly was already in beta mode, creating collections of Web pages using feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and RSS sources—and that effort has led to 100 million page views on Nextly already, Sultan says.

But as of today, he says, anyone can curate content on the site. Publishers and individuals alike can create collections of pages and share them with readers and friends. What’s been missing in most of the previous efforts to create personalized content streams, Sultan says, is the human element.

“Everything that’s been tried has been through some sort of algorithm,” he says. “What we’re bringing back is trust… Everybody is a gatekeeper.”

And that brings the discussion back to what he learned from Marginize. That startup was about augmenting the Web through annotation—letting people leave comments on any Web page. “That was valuable, but it wouldn’t work without the curation. We want to take you to that page first,” he says. “That layer should be about guiding each other, and annotation could [still] be part of it.”

He adds, “The Web used to be about websites. Now it’s about people. We want to create a people layer on top.”

It’s still early for revenue talk, but Sultan says “brands already want to sponsor these” curated collections of articles. So it sounds like if all goes well, his seven-person company could make some noise in the media advertising industry—with a potential benefit to both Nextly and publishers. The bigger goal, though, is to turn the Web into a more guided, curated place.

“The next step is to try to get a million people curating,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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