Looking for More Intelligence in Digital Publishing at Matter Demo Day

2/28/14Follow @jpruth

Bristling with new ideas to help publishers, writers, and other creative professionals reach out through the digital world, the crew from Matter in San Francisco held a demo day this week in New York.

It is the second class to graduate from the media-focused accelerator, this time with seven startups promising to stir up different parts of the industry. Jake Shapiro, founding partner of Matter and CEO of Cambridge, MA-based PRX (the Public Radio Exchange), said the accelerator wants to bring the values of public media together with the mindset of entrepreneurship. That kind of disruption in media and journalism, he said, can be fundamental to democracy. Matter is backed by PRX; PBS television station KQED; and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Corey Ford, managing partner of Matter, said now is a prime time for entrepreneurs to experiment with new ideas in media and create the future of storytelling. Moreover, he said Matter encourages its startups to “fail forward.” “That’s the secret to Silicon Valley innovation,” Ford said.

Matter invests $50,000 in each startup in its program, which includes five months of work with mentors and experts. Though the accelerator is still pretty young, Matter’s approach so far seems to be effective. Out of its first class of six startups, which graduated last summer, five have either landed additional funding or gotten acquisition offers, Ford said.

The latest class reflected the broadening, international reach of Matter, with teams drawn from Argentina, Ireland, Finland, and Britain as well as the U.S.

Among the new graduates was a recognizable face from the technology scene. Ryan Singel, a former editor with Wired, demoed Contextly with fellow co-founder Ben Autrey, who previously did design work for InboxQ and Dynamic Signal.

Singel said during his 10-year tenure with Wired, the tools for digital publishing got faster and easier but not more intelligent. In 2012, he left the news world and jumped into entrepreneurship to co-found Contextly, which he said combines editorial content curation with machine learning.

Contextly’s software is designed to recommend stories that are more relevant to readers than the unrelated, and at times off-the-wall, stories other systems push. The random, wacky content that shows up at the bottom of some websites is “brand-destroying click bait,” Singel said. To curb such twaddle, he said Contextly’s algorithms push editorial content that gives readers a chance to dive deeply and get immersed in a topic. The software also suggests evergreen stories that might appeal to readers and get them more engaged with the publication. “That keeps great stories from dying an untimely death,” he said.

In this age of drive-by readers, Singel said, a critical moment comes when someone decides whether or not to read more than one story on a website. “If they do, they’re likely to come back,” he said. “If they don’t, they won’t.”

Contextly charges its clientele $50 to $500 per month for different levels of service and works with publishers such as Make, O’Reilly, and Adafruit Industries. The startup wants to raise $500,000 in seed round for new hires and to add social … Next Page »

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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