Former Twitter engineers are building Particle, an AI-powered news reader, backed by $4.4M


Particle news reader screen
Image Credits: Particle

A team led by former Twitter engineers is rethinking how AI can be used to help people process news and information., which entered into private beta over the weekend, is a new startup offering a personalized, “multi-perspective” news reading experience that not only leverages AI to summarize the news, but also aims to do so in a way that fairly compensates authors and publishers — or so is the claim.

While Particle hasn’t yet shared its business model, it arrives at a time when there’s a growing concern about the impact of AI on a rapidly shrinking news ecosystem. News that is summarized by AI could limit clicks to publishers’ websites, which means their ability to monetize via advertising would also be reduced.

The startup was founded last year by former Senior Director of Product Management at Twitter, Sara Beykpour, who worked on products like Twitter Blue, Twitter Video, and conversations, and who spearheaded the experimental app, twttr. She had been at Twitter from 2015 through 2021, growing her position from software engineering to that of a senior director of product management. Her co-founder is a former senior engineer at both Twitter and Tesla, Marcel Molina.

The premise behind Particle, as Beykpour explained last month, is to make it easier to keep up with news using AI.

“Sometimes it feels like headlines are all we have time for. We also want to understand more, but faster,” she wrote in an introduction to the startup on Threads. “We’re in the early stages of using AI to transform the way we interact with news.”

Using Particle, news readers are offered a quick, bulleted summary of the story, with information pulled from a variety of sources. However, when announcing the private beta, Beykpour noted that readers can either use the summary to get up to speed or can choose to go deeper to “learn about how a story has unfolded over time.”

The venture-backed startup has raised a total of $4.4 million in seed funding from Kindred Ventures and Adverb Ventures, as well as various angel investors, including Twitter and Medium co-founder Ev Williams and Behance founder, Scott Belsky. The round closed in April 2023.

Remarked Belsky on X, “Particle has become a daily app for me. It synthesizes the many articles (and angles) on any news topic, surfaces the key points as objectively as possible, and lets you dig further across many dimensions. In the era of abstraction ahead, great example of daily AI,” he wrote.

Particle offers a demo of its technology for logged-out users via its website, where articles are featured along with their summary, timestamp as to when they were last updated, and, in a small section at the bottom, the sources they draw from.

These sources pull from across the political spectrum and include big-name publishers like The New York Times, CNBC, the AP, ABC, CNN, Breitbart, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Politico, Fox News, USA Today, The Daily Caller, New York Post, The Hill, and others. International outlets are also pulled from, when relevant, the demos indicate. However, each bullet point is not linked to its original source or sources, which makes it difficult to fact-check the accuracy of the AI summary without delving into all the articles. (Key terms are, however, linked.) We noted, too, that the photograph accompanying a news summary is watermarked with the publisher’s logo.

Image Credits: Particle

The end product will likely differ, given that Particle is just now launching its private beta for testing and intends to offer a mobile app in the future, as it’s hiring for a senior iOS engineer.

A similar model of leveraging a variety of news sources and then employing AI to summarize, was recently employed by Artifact, the now-shuttered startup from Instagram’s co-founders. In its case, Artifact’s team curated the news sources upfront based on factors related to their integrity and quality. For example, the outlet had to be quick to make corrections, when wrong, and be transparent about their funding. We’re hoping to talk in more detail about how Particle vets its sources closer to a public launch.

Another AI-powered news app, Bulletin, also recently launched to tackle clickbait along with offering news summaries.

Given the interest in this space, what could make Particle stand out is its founding team. Arriving from Twitter, the co-founders have experienced what a real-time news ecosystem feels like, and have the technical and product experience to build a quality product. Whether or not publishers who feel that AI is eating into their space will feel “fairly compensated,” however, remains to be seen.

Adverb Ventures co-founder and managing director April Underwood praised Particle in a post on LinkedIn about the firm’s investment:

“We got the chance to back them just as we were completing our very first close for Fund 1 — we had to wait for our first capital call to hit to wire them the money!” she said on Sunday, adding that Adverb closed its $75 million Fund I just a couple of months ago. “Sara and Marcel are the kind of founders we dreamed of backing when we set out to build a new early-stage firm. They are going after a big problem space. They’ve got the skills to tackle big problems at a high level of product quality. And they can attract other talented folks to join them, and together invent a future consumers don’t know to ask for (yet),” Underwood wrote.

In an email with TechCrunch, Underwood explained the opportunity ahead:

In terms of the space, we believe AI is going to touch every aspect of people’s digital lives at work and at home. Couple that with the pre-existing conditions at play here — it’s hard to find breaking news from sources you can trust, and the social media landscape is rapidly evolving — and you have to believe that the way people consume news is going to be different a few years from now. Sara and Marcel are uniquely qualified to help people get the news they need in a modern way.

Beykpour tells TechCrunch that the idea for Particle came about because there are a lot of challenges around how people get news and stay up to date with what’s happening. However, the company is still talking to publishers about what they would need to feel fairly compensated by a model where AI is summarizing their work.

“Honestly, we’re figuring that out. We’re talking to and working with publishers now to figure out what the right model is,” she says. “But my goal here is to make it fair.”

Investor Steve Jang, who has known Beykpour for 15 years, said he was excited to back her and the team’s efforts in exploring how AI can improve the news reading experience.

“The benefit of AI is that it can do certain things that no existing human being can do,” he explains. “It can take all the known history of information and data that’s publicly available and synthesize it to help you understand more completely what is going on on a particular topic…it can do so much in terms of creating a natural language experience that is immediately consumable and comprehensible. It can do many things around supplementing the secondary discovery — the investigation that you might want to do to understand more deeply,” Jang continues.

“So AI in this case is a combination of LLMs that basically do a lot of the hard work to give you that completeness, comprehension, and depth immediately — that was really hard to do, previously,” he adds.

The company expects to have more news to share on that front in the months ahead. In the meantime, Particle’s beta sign-up form is here.

Originally published 2/26/24. Updated after publication with additional comments from Underwood and Jang. Updated, 2/29/24, 8:30 a.m. PT with additional funding details. 

More TechCrunch

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

16 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies