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Review Of Prismatic

Wavii and Prismatic are two of the latest warriors in the perilous battlefield of automated social content discovery and recommendations and over the past few weeks I have grown quite fond of using Prismatic. The domain of automated content discovery has seen much money and effort invested into it with companies like Evri/Twine, SocialMedian, Summify either shutting down or being acquired into larger products to be integrated as smaller features or as talent acquisitions. So it is surprising to see even more resources being plonked into a domain that has repeatedly proven to be either plumbing with no real scope as a consumer-facing business.

One reason why this is happening is because nobody has successfully cracked this space, exposing the underlying technology in the form of a useful, simple service than as something which is inherently nerdy in nature. Recommendation engines that work on unstructured text requires a mixture of content crawling, classification and content clustering to make it work right. Each of those three aspects are hard to crack by themselves, requiring a lot more than just your average web development chops. Together, they are an unattainable holy trinity. There is a good reason why so many companies and smart people have failed at it. That is also one of the best reason to have a go at it again.

Then there is the aspect of the RSS readers — another domain that has seen many a brave product, person and purse eventually call it quits, with not a single big product from five-years-ago being alive in 2013. You can, justifiably, argue Google Reader is still alive in somewhat a whittled down form, but even in its heyday the product could not grow into the mainstream. RSS is inherently plumbing for the connected web. It is not meant to be consumed by humans. Yet, the entire workflow around using RSS was built around human intervention. There is a good reason why it never took off.

Why I like Prismatic a lot is because it excels at executing the holy trinity really well. The on-boarding is ridiculously simple – you hook up your Twitter account (in my case, since I am not on Facebook) and it figures out a list of things you like based on your profile. It presents you with a list of links to read right when you log in. There is no “hey, check in 10-hours later when we’d have crawled content for you” in their case. For a non-technical audience this is crucial. Even more crucial is the fact that you need to curate anything at all, it figures out what you like by tracking what you clicked/opened.

Comparatively, Wavii is a more nerdy experience. The on-boarding is nowhere close to being as polished as Prismatic and even after a while on the service it leaves me quite confused. Consumer-facing applications cannot afford to appear convoluted and complicated, especially in the iOS era. Wavii is much more an alpha/beta a product than Prismatic, but that is understandable as Prismatic is better capitalized and has been around for quite a while with some top-notch talent trying to solve the hard problems associated with getting their product right.

In my opinion Prismatic is the next step from Google Reader. Underneath the shiny bits Prismatic polls RSS feeds, crawls updated pages, classifies the information, generates content summaries, titles and images and presents the story to you as a simple news/content item. But, as a regular user, you are not exposed to any of those shenanigans. Instead, all you get is an endless stream of news/information with an exceptionally high degree of relevance with zero active input from you.

If I had money to invest, I would certainly invest a fair chunk with Prismatic. I am still not sold on the idea that niche products like these can stand on their own two legs and scale into the hyper growth phase. But I am pretty certain that should the team choose to sell in the future, the exit would be fairly large for everyone involved and deservedly so too.

Disclosure: I have no connections with either product directly (other than a two bug reports) or through my clients.


  • manuscrypts

    Have you tried pugmarks.me

    • Had first checked it out when it was referred to me in another context, didn’t think too much of it. Tried it again just now, but I am not OK with the bookmarklet/extension model.

      • Hi Shyam, I’m Bharath, the co-founder of Pugmarks.me. Pugmarks wants to provide you a 360 degree view of content discovery. News from your web of trust, or interests – should nt just be something you check at certain parts of the day. Almost every piece of reading you do, will have some connection to something you’ve read in the past, or something your web of trust has experienced.

        Pugmarks.me can itself be customized to suit your taste.
        Eg: You can just use our website and use it like a news aggregator, but also as an extension/bookmarklet to get you contextual recommendations.

        I’d love to give you a demo sometime. Would love to hear you at bharath@insieve.com

        p.s: We do love Prismatic, and would also love to show you the difference.

        • Bharath,

          Last I tried it, it did not cut it for me. Let me give it a shot again and see.

          Thanks,
          Shyam

  • jon_downfromthetrees

    Well, I’m looking at it in the aftermath of Google Reader’s announced demise. I don’t see what’s to like. Just a long stack of clips from web sites, no way to tell it what I want to see and what I don’t want to see. No way to get it to import an OPML list.

    I dropped Facebook and Twitter two years ago. Too much noise, barely any signal. Far too many idiots. If Prismatic is tied to those, it’s useless to me.

    • It is certainly not a replacement for Google Reader. Prismatic is not a product that will crawl your social data and pull out links. The social data is used as signals to see what your interests are likely to be. I’ve found much better signal-to-noise ratio on Prismatic than Google Reader. Then again, if your need is a simple feed aggregator, Prismatic won’t be the product you are looking for.