Earlier today Zite announced that it had been acquired for a second time – the first time CNN was the buyer, and this time around Zite’s main competitor Flipboard took it off the U.S. media giant’s hands. The deal sees Zite CEO Mark Johnson departing the company, but the outgoing executive still had plenty to say about what Zite brings to Flipboard, and how the CNN experience has helped it be in a position to deliver more value to its new owner.
The Zite team is a big asset that brings a lot of value to Flipboard, according to Johnson, but there’s a lot more that the product and tech behind the digital digest offer Mike McCue and his team at the former rival company.
“I think the technology, as in generally getting tons of great stuff about tens of thousands of topics is super useful,” he said. “Sure you can people curate things about knitting or about volcanoes, but having it done algorithmically really amps up with the Flipboard platform can do, plus our discovery technology can help engagement, and help get people more invested in the platform, too.”
Design-wise, Johnson says he thinks there’s a lot that Zite can offer Flipboard, which could help shape big changes to the look and feel of the product going forward. It sounds like he believes a major redesign may come out of the new unified company.
“The second thing that they get with our people is understanding how to take that technology and turn it into a really good user experience,” he explained. “I’ve always been really impressed with Flipboard being, as large as they are, being very humble about where their interface is, and knowing that though they have an amazing interface today, they really want to push it forward. Having that UX expertise in our group is really going to help them figure out what the next version of Flipboard is going to look like and make it simple and elegant.”
I asked Johnson about the time at CNN, and what that brought to Zite, and he says that while a key part of that deal was that it be allowed to continue to operate mostly independently, CNN did assign a ‘”Sherpa” from its own staff to essentially guide and in many ways act as a board member and advisor to the company, and that proved immensely useful in helping shed light on how a media company might view a property like a digital mobile aggregator, and what kind of role that has to play in the world of publishers.
Of course, through this deal CNN acquires equity in another digital newsgathering and reader software property, but it’s interesting that Johnson so clearly seems to see the move as a way for Flipboard to inject some new life into its product and vision. Consolidation here isn’t unexpected, in many ways, and adding Zite’s strengths to its own makes sense for Flipboard, but it’s just interesting to see it come with CNN along for the ride.
Johnson himself isn’t entirely sure what comes next for him. The exiting CEO says he’s eager to build his own company, and has a number of ideas floating around that he could potentially focus on. To settle on one and really develop it, however, he hopes to spend some time traveling and experimenting with different concepts in a way that allows for more exploration and less focus on day-to-day product building.