Trimit’s a recent $0.99 app for the iOS platform that does one simple thing very well: It boils down longer-form Net content into 1,000-, 500-, or 140-character summaries. The longer summaries are meant to be handy for people pressed for time to read bigger articles, perhaps during a commute, and the shorter summaries make it easy to share the body text of interesting content (more than just a “hey this is good!” introduction to a link in an email or tweet) on the web, with the 140-character limit obviously tailored for Twitter. It’s also useful for deciding if you want to, later, read a long-form article.
Its design taps into the same thinking as web acryonyms like LOL and TWSS, and there’s more than a little nod in the direction of hyper-abbreviated SMS language. Perhaps this thinking was boosted because the chap behind it is just 15.
App creator Nick D’Aloisio tells Fast Company that he came up with the idea for the app during exam studies when he was “required to research a vast amount of webpages.” Nick realized that while poring over sites was “browsing a lot of pages that were, in fact, irrelevant to the task and therefore wasting” a lot of his time. Thus the aha moment, where he realized a quick precis of a website could be invaluable in helping you decide if you wanted to browse the rest of it. D’Aloisio stressed that the intention really is to “aid users in consuming content on the web” rather than sharing it socially, though this is a natural benefit of its design.
The algorithm took a month to develop, because it required him to “research the heuristics and logic behind automatic text summarisation and text mining.” Research into topics like this goes on in multi-million-dollar programs and many a PhD thesis, and Nick (largely self-taught) boiled it down to a working core in just a month, releasing it as an iPhone app to “see if there was a market for this application of algorithm.”
Even in the new tech economy of the App Store where even coders a few years in have relative seniority, D’Aloisio’s says his age could have become a distraction. So he kept it under wraps. “It was a conscious decision to not disclose my age to Apple and the media,” he says, because he wanted “Trimit to be judged on its own merit, and not the story of its creator being 15.” Revealing his age early on “could have led to both positive and negative press being associated with Trimit, which would have taken the focus away from the product.” Youth was, in other ways, an enabler, D’Aloisio says, because it allowed him to take risks while being insulated from the usual life-gouging process of launching an enterprise–he doesn’t rely on Trimit for income so he could be “more experimental in Trimit’s business development,” which he sees as an opportunity to “learn and discover.”
There were downsides, and people haven’t sometimes taken him seriously because of his age in both technical and business situations, he says, and in some cases it’s prohibited him from legally signing contracts. Unlike some young coders, D’Aloisio is playing the long game. He’s actively chasing venture capital investors and claims to have some interested in funding further development–it’s the point at which his youth becomes an advantage. They’ve asked him to demonstate that the business will be run well, and they may require him to listen to other experienced business minds, but this is all “integral to Trimit’s success,” he says.
Entrepreneurial spirit is important to coders, Nick thinks, and in the app-building industry it’s easy for younger people to achieve success because anyone of any age could “teach themselves how to program and reach millions of users through the App Store and other mediums to share their product.” Age, he thinks, is becoming a less important characteristic of a developer. Naturally years of experience in what works, and a toolset of ways to tackle a coding problem grown over a couple of decades are also key, and that’s why many app store coders are older than D’Aloisio. There’s also a level of interpersonal skill polish, as well as experience in pulling the right levers with banks and legal authorities that an older businessperson may be better at. But he has a point: At his age, and possessing business-savviness and undoubted technical skills, app store entrepreneurial success may actually be easier than for someone older, with much more to lose–and the Internet is a fine filter to prevent your age from impacting the business.