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Interview with Nikolaos Nanas (Co-founder of Noowit)
Please introduce yourself to the readers of this blog. What is the story behind Noowit?
I am Nikolaos Nanas, co-founder of Noowit. Noowit’s history goes all the way back to 2000 when I started my PhD on Artificial Intelligence with a focus on Information Filtering and Content Personalization. I finished my PhD in 2004 and until 2010 I continued studying and improving the Immune-Inspired User Profiling model, which was the result of my PhD work. After confirming experimentally that it has the ability to learn and continuously adapt to a user’s (or a group’s) interests, I have decided to apply it to the real world. The development of Noowit’s Personalized News Aggregator started in September 2011 in collaboration with my business partner Christos Spiliopoulos. The first public beta version of the service was released on the 1st of July 2013 and has attracted international interest, which many characterizing it as a competitor to the popular Flipboard app. Although Noowit’s web app was innovative in many respects, it has not attracted a critical mass of users or the funding required for its marketing and further development. In May 2015 and after talking to various news publishers we have decided to pivot, i.e., change business direction. We have developed and recently (25th of April) launched officially a new platform for publishing intelligent newspapers and magazines online. By combining Artificial Intelligence with innovative design and cutting edge technologies we have managed to successfully transfer for the first time, the effectiveness of print media online. Noowit editions have a cover and a back page, but take the form of a “papyrus” that readers browse easily by scrolling on any device. In the process they are exposed pleasantly to full page advertisement, in the same way they used to when they were flipping through a print magazine or newspaper. The edition’s sections adapt to the reader’s interests, the content’s volume and characteristics and of course the device used. They are self-contained and can be disseminated as a whole via social media and newsletters. Overall, Noowit is offering a new innovative way to publish online with the power of AI.
How can media companies leverage your technology? What is the added value you offer compared to the way they have been publishing content traditionally?
With the new platform, Noowit has essentially become the “printing house” of the future, offering the fastest, cheapest and smartest way to publish online. We are not only targeting news publishers but also companies who wish to publish corporate newsletters for market intelligence or content marketing.
Portals, pdf exports and dedicated native apps are not made for news publishing. When 70% of a news portals visitors come from social media, land directly on an article’s page, read it (partly) and leave, it means that they fail in their effort to keep the visitor navigating through categories and subcategories to produce pageviews and banner impressions. The site’s front-page becomes obsolete. In addition, banners don’t work, visitors just ignore them subconsciously or purposefully avoid them. Finally native apps are not suited for news, cause they lock all this social media traffic out and of course pdf exports are just inadequate, since they don’t support any interaction.
Noowit editions achieve better engagement and retention via personalization. They fully exploit social media by exposing the reader to the publishers full edition and not just individual articles. Their full-page ads have been characterized by readers themselves as pleasant and their Click Through Rate (CTR) is over 4% when the average CTR of banners is 0,06%.
Noowit editions are branded and ready for any device. We plug into the existing CMS so that the publisher does not have to change the way they work. They can be continuous, periodical (daily, weekly, monthly), or special on-off editions. We are charging an initial setup fee and then monthly based on the number of unique visitors. We continuously evolve and upgrade our infrastructure and we actively make sure that each publication appeals to as many readers as possible. Its a clear win-win publishing collaboration.
Your expansion strategy for global reach & customers? Has funding come your way?
We are building our case in the local national market, but we are already talking to media people abroad and the reactions are more than positive. We are also optimistic that now that our revenue stream is in place, our business proposition will become more appealing to investors. We are already viable and this gives us enough time to expand and attract funding.
Your opinion on the Greek startup ecosystem
The Greek startup eco-system is clearly growing, but still in its infancy. Success stories like those of workable, taxibeat, incrediblue and others are encouraging and inspiring. However, we are still far lacking in terms of the established legal/tax framework, the access to funds and to the global entrepreneurial network. Of course this is just my personal opinion and since we are not based in Athens it may be ill informed. In any case, we should not be carried away by what we hear or read about the startup scene in San Fransisco and other startup capitals. We should adapt our expectations and efforts to the league we are playing in.
Sometimes the research behind a technology is great but the market is not ready to integrate it. How much effort do you need to market, communicate, establish your service, etc.?
Excellent question/observation. Noowit’s computational core is just amazing and ahead of the curve in many respects, but this is not always easy to communicate and prove. It is the only Content Personalization/Recommendation Engine readily applicable to any language and any information type. It is the only one that can represent and adapt to a user’s (or a group’s) multiple and evolving interests and it the only one that is directly integrated into the design of each Noowit edition. It is applied not only to choose the most relevant content, but also the way it is presented to the reader. It produces “Similar Articles” recommendations based on the article being read and even personalized newsletters.
Our innovative technological infrastructure and the fact that is inspired by the immune system (find out more here: http://www.noowit.com/tech.html) has been central to our communication and marketing efforts so far, but we realized it is too much to swallow. Now it has become more silent. The reader does not even have to know it is happening as long as the numbers show that personalization matters. We are measuring everything and with every new publication and user we are building our case on solid numbers, proving that our technology and design are working and have a positive effect on engagement, retention and virality. The numbers so far speak for themselves, proving our case and making persuading publishers and investors easier.
Please close this interview as you see fit.
Throwing the old Noowit away was a tough decision, but we failed and learned. We fall down and stood up again, when other Personalized News Aggregators, such as Prismatic, have ceased their operations despite receiving millions in funding. Noowit’s new platform is the result of the lessons learned and the experience gained. Christopher Varakliotis who joined the team as our front-engineer also played a catalytic role in developing our new layout engine and the general publishing infrastructure. The new platform is solid, addresses real world media issues and is straightforward to comprehend. Of course we never stop improving the platform and adding new features. Stay tuned…more publications and announcements coming soon.