The Startup That Could Turn Twitter Into Your Newspaper

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Twitter purchased the small Vancouver startup Summify today, but it could be a big step for the company's value as a news source.

Summify created a service that would send you the "top news" from your social networks based on a proprietary algorithm that combined your interests with the most popular links among the people you follow on Twitter, say. It took some of the anxiety out of knowing that you could never possibly read every tweet from a large network.

To appreciate why it matters that Twitter acquired Summify, you should try linking your Twitter account to Flipboard. Flipboard takes the links that my Twitter connections post and turns them into a magazine-style digest. Every morning, when I want to see what's happening, I don't fire up Twitter itself and cruise through hundreds of tweets. Instead, I fire up Flipboard and see right through the 140-character tweets to the vast sea of information on which they rest. This is an immensely useful way of dealing with large amounts of tweets.

An even more impressive service is Nieman Journalism Lab's "Fuego," which ranks the links that people who are interested in the future of journalism are tweeting. (Right at this moment, the top two stories are about Twitter's acquisition of Summify. Meta!)

If I think about what Twitter might do with Summify, it's pretty simple: Flipboard + Fuego. Basically, it's a personal "trending topics" generator. Take the hottest links from your feed drawing on Twitter's rich data, combine them with your personal preferences, and present them in some nice format. Perhaps this format could be a (very monetizable) daily newsletter filled with news and information that's relevant to you. If we were anachronistic, we might even call this bundle of content a "newspaper" that just happens to be curated by your Twitter network.

Twitter has always had a front-end problem. We're talking about a product that, for years, most users accessed through third-party clients. No matter, though. The networks that the basic idea allows people to build are what is valuable. And now, the company is trying to find the right way to expose all the value lying in those networks. One way is all the change you've seen at Twitter.com. The next? Well, that's Summify.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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