News Discovery Site Prismatic Gets More Social With User Profiles

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Startup Prismatic claims to show you news related to “what you’re actually interested in.” Starting today, users can to reveal those interests to others with newly launched profiles.

When I first heard about Prismatic, my kneejerk reaction was, “Oh God, another Flipboard competitor.” Making matters worse, the company is building a website first and doesn’t have a smartphone or tablet app yet, which is awfully unsexy. But co-founder and CEO Bradford Cross says the company’s is pursuing a genuinely new approach to the problem, which is why it’s sticking to the Web for now and remains invite-only.

So what does the bit about “actually interested in” mean? Cross says that if you look at Flipboard and the hordes of competitors, they’re mostly showing you content that’s already in your social stream — on Twitter, that means you’re just seeing headlines from people and publications that you already follow. Some startups claim to take a broader view, but Cross says that if you look at the content that gets highlighted, it’s still stuff from your Twitter feed. (I haven’t taken a close enough look at other apps to back this up, but I can say that the content usually isn’t different enough or better enough to lure me away from Flipboard.) In large part, he says that’s because they’re trying to bolt social discovery onto existing products. Prismatic’s technology, on the other hand, is more topic-based — it looks at what you’ve been sharing on social networks to determine your interests, then recommends topics and publications for you to follow. Hopefully, you’ll start finding content that you would have missed otherwise.

The new profiles provide a way to share and find that content. Each profile includes a visualization of all your different interests. You can see co-founder Aria’s visualization Haghighi above — the more you interact with a topic, the larger the bubble. There’s also a stream of stories showing the news that you’ve interacted with recently.

This creates a more social way to find new interests to follow and stories to read. It can also tell you something new about your friends. For example, Haghighi and I were acquaintances back when we were both undergraduates at Stanford, but his Prismatic profile was almost a revelation. Given his interest in science fiction and comic books, including a giant profile image of Batman and highlighting content about author China Mieville, I realized that we should totally be best friends. (I’m not sure about that whole computer science thing though.) Some of this information could probably be inferred via Facebook profile and likes, but Prismatic is putting interest information and news-sharing front-and-center — which should also make you feel more comfortable sharing news in a context where you don’t have to worry about annoying your friends.

Prismatic profiles have just gone live for every user with more than 10 interests (so I need a few more interests to activate mine).

The company has raised $1.2 million in funding from Battery Ventures, Javelin Venture Partners, and undisclosed angels. You can request an invite here.