I know that all good things must come to an end and I've had an incredible ride. I just want to end it on the right note. -- Alonzo Mourning on his retirement
Today we’re shutting down Trapit’s free personalized content discovery apps. It’s been an incredible ride for us too, Alonzo. When Hank and I launched our free web app nearly three years ago, we really didn’t know what to expect. And that was the point. Sure, we had a bucket full of patents from SRI, and we’d spent over a year taking code and concepts intended for very targeted US Government Intelligent work and trying to turn it into a much more general –infinitely more scalable – tool. A tool that could “trap” any topic and, from an individual user’s feedback, produce a stream of personalized, relevant content for each user. This was at a time when crowd sourcing was red hot and “collaborative filtering” – the technique of delivering content to you based on popular stories that others “like you” have selected – was ubiquitous. But we challenged this belief – our mantra: “You are not the crowd.” We are all individuals with our own beliefs, tastes, and principles. A popular story is not necessarily relevant to you. So that was our theory – but we really didn’t know if we could pull it off. The challenges were daunting. Daunting from a technology standpoint: could our algorithms – just strings of binary code – really get to know each user as an individual, and deliver to them content on any topic that was relevant to them? As an example, we had about 100,000 people interested in “big data.” So 100,000 people got 100,000 different streams of information on this topic. Sure, there was overlap, but the SGI engineer interested in Hadoop, was seeing a very different “trap” than the Rackspace engineer who wanted to stay current on the latest developments in cloud infrastructure. Combine this with our insistence that Trapit would function in real time, and that new, original content would be delivered to our users within minutes of the publication time. So scale was a huge concern for us. Consider 1M users, each with an average of ten traps. Could we really deliver 10M personalized streams of information – in real time? And could we really trap any topic – from the very specific, like “Alonzo Mourning” – to vague concepts, like “digital culture,” “future TV,” or “relationship advice?” And could we truly boil down the web to a large – but finite – base of sources that produced original, high-quality content?
The point is, these were questions that could not be answered in theory – we needed real people, and lots of them, to try it. And our initial results were, quite frankly, pretty awful. Technology and techniques that looked good in sterile lab conditions were markedly different when exposed to the vagaries of the raucous, wild web. Minimizing duplication, disambiguation, outsmarting SEO, finding the right image in seas of clutter – all these and hundreds more were problems that we encountered as we made incremental improvements to our app as we gradually increased our user base from tens to millions.
But vetting the technology was not the only reason for launching a broad-based consumer app. Hank and I believed from the start that the real value of Trapit would be unlocked by business. Though we had no way of knowing which businesses would benefit most – finance, sales, marketing; publishers, developers, educators – and hundreds more. So we needed to see how Trapit was being used, identifying the usage patterns in order to build our business plan around real market intelligence.
And we did. Last year, in April 2013, we launched our first business application – the Trapit Publisher Suite. In September, we followed up with Trapit’s Content Curation Center (CCC), a comprehensive personalized content discovery, curation, analysis, and delivery application that helps marketers solve the thorny problems of content marketing. Along the way, we offered our API’s to selected customers, allowing great companies like Zeebox to embed Trapit’s unparalleled content curation and recommendation technology into their own apps.
Which brings us to this bittersweet day. We’re a small team. Now that we know Trapit works beyond our initial expectations, it is time to end this incredibly important part of our history and concentrate fully on the market that we’d always hoped would materialize: business users. In making the transition from the free app to our current platform, significant changes were required. Many of the features and capabilities absolutely required for business use – capabilities that put the power of Trapit’s technology into the user’s hands, like advanced filtering, image and headline control, selection and automation of the content delivery, and many, many more – were well beyond the scope and practicality of a free consumer app. But as long as our free app remained in the market, our prospective business customers would be confused. “Why am I paying if I can get it for free?” Or, “I’m using Trapit now, but it doesn’t have the features and functions I need.”
Not surprisingly, I’ve been an avid Trapit user myself. I’ll miss keeping tabs on a wide list of my interests, both personal – like my bacon trap – and topics relevant to Trapit’s business – like my content marketing trap. Like so many of you, I’ll miss my daily email digest and the dynamic updates insuring that the topics important to me would always be current. But on a positive side, many of the users of our free app are getting their companies to embrace Trapit as the ultimate platform for content curation, allowing them to continue use our powerful CCC.
Trust that we understand your disappointment at the loss, and that we sincerely appreciate your loyalty, support, and the kind words we’ve heard from so many of you over this fascinating journey. We could not have done it without you, and we could not be more grateful.
-Gary, Trapit CEO and Co-founder
Posted by Gary Griffiths