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

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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. Particle.news, 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. 

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