Nick D'Aloisio Becomes World's Newest Millionaire With 'Summly,' But Does the App Suck?


Nick D’Aloisio is is reaching a lot of major milestones in his life lately. His 18th birthday is coming up soon. He is preparing to go to college. He released a mobile app Summly for the iPhone. And then Yahoo bought Summly for tens of millions and gave him his first job.

Mobile apps buyouts in the millions have become more increasingly common, the most infamous being Facebook's purchase of Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock. With the amount of money being thrown towards mobile apps by large corporations in an attempt to gain the next big breakthrough in tech, is the acquisition of Summly by Yahoo a good decision or money down the drain?

Summly is a mobile news app designed for one thing: summation of huge amounts of information for tiny phone screen. Utilizing an algorithm, the application generates a summary of a news article and formats it for phone screens. The layout of the app is simple, with D’Aloisio getting world-renowned visual artist/photographer Kevin Abosch to design the cover page, a thing it has been constantly praised in reviews. Summly is primary designed for quick summary to information, supposedly allowing both news junkies and regular people to quickly gain an overall picture of what is happening in the world today.

Yahoo’s acquisition of Summly comes among a growing trend of getting news from mobile devices and online. The Pew Research Center’s report on trends in news consumption shows that the amount of people receiving their news online or on a mobile device has skyrocketed in the past 8 years, from 24% in 2004 to 39% in 2012.

However reports on the actual usefulness of Summly are mixed at the time. A MacLife review of the appsaid that "while Summlys are very easy to read (though punctuation was an occasional issue), they usually didn't expound the story beyond a subhead."

Wired wrote of the app, "If I were grading the quality of the summaries the app provides, I’d give them a C. They are logical and grammatically correct, but they can be repetitive or include details within the article that aren't tremendously important to the broader theme."

Gigaom said of Summly, "Summly isn't there just yet, because it doesn't provide that constant craving and gratification. Despite the clean design and simple aesthetics, I don’t feel that I need to return to it multiple times a day. It doesn't feel immediate enough, despite being fast. Many summaries are late, which makes the app feel a little dated."

However Summly was only in its second iteration when bought by Yahoo, leaving it much room for improvement. After all, many products need more then two revisions to hit the sweet spot. It is quite possible that with the resources of Yahoo behind it, Summly may be able to hit its stride much faster then it would have alone. However, Yahoo’s recent treatment of its mobile acquisitions may mean that the app may change in a fundamental way with further improvements.

Yahoo is attempting to buy back relevance in a world dominated by new generation of Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Google, and Apple. The acquisition of Summly is the fifth mobile start up bought by Yahoo since Marissa Mayer become CEO in July. The other four include recommendation startup Jybe, another recommendation startup Stamped, "Pinterest for links", and Alike, another recommendation app. All four were shut down and saw their talent rolled into Yahoo’s mobile and social divisions. 

As of the time of writing this article, I was unable to download and install Summly on an iPhone in order to do a personal review of the app. Time will tell if Summly will change the way we view news on our phones or simply be an expensive mistake on the part of Yahoo.