“In the Studio,” Prismatic’s Bradford Cross Wants to Reinvent Social News

Editor’s Note: TechCrunch columnist Semil Shah is based in Palo Alto. You can follow him on Twitter @semil

“In the Studio” continues this week by welcoming an engineer who founded a company that predicted flight delays, has gone through Y Combinator, began his career building trading software for an asset management firm, and most recently, has helped cofound a new company with the ambitious goal of building a social newspaper for the modern world.

Bradford Cross is not your average technical founder. I’ve been skeptical about applications built on top of the Twitter feed for a few reasons. My belief is that most Twitter users are, by default, power users (relative to the larger population), and that they have been trained to view their newsfeed in a native format. Therefore, asking those users to jump from what’s comfortable (native feeds) to an entirely new product or service that is built on top of their activity may sound nice but, in reality, impose deep, behavioral switching costs. (For a bit more on this topic and discussion, check out this topic stash on PandaWhale.)

As the Prismatic team refines the product, they’ve integrated other social networks, too. Despite my initial skepticism, I’ve tried out Prismatic, and I must confess, changed my mind after using it over time. Users can now login via Facebook or Google+, in addition to Twitter. The product is well-designed, has a clean look and feel, and artfully masks the difficult technical and research that reside under the hood.

In this discussion, Cross sits down with me to discuss how he and his team came up with the idea, how many versions they had to build before they hit pay dirt, and the technical and research challenges the team faced. Specifically, Prismatic is built around a complex system that provides large scale, real-time, dynamic personalized re-ranking of information, as well classifying and grouping topics into an ontology. Prismatic has recently announced new improvements, as well, so expect the team to continue to push the limits for news consumption. This discussion would be of interest to any online or social news junkies (like me) and/or developers who are fiddling with ideas of how to build on top of Twitter.