What do you do after you have resigned from the ground-breaking company you founded? If you are Martin Stiksel and Felix Miller, the founders of Last.fm, you decide to do it all over again on an even larger scale. Today the duo is launching Lumi, a web discovery tool to find news, entertainment, and eventually products. “We felt we had only scratched the surface of what we can do with this concept, “ laughs Miller. ”So here we are, back again!”
The Internet was a very different place when Miller and Stiksel launched Last.fm in 2002. Google was only four years old. Facebook, YouTube, and even Myspace did not yet exist. Amazon had only recently started recommending “books you might like.”
Stiksel was a DJ in his native Austria and he and Miller originally teamed up in London to create an online record label for unsigned bands. Then they spotted an article in the Guardian about Richard Jones’s Audioscrobbler–a plug-in for your media player which created a music profile by tracking what you listened to. It could also suggest music you didn’t know based on what music lovers with similar profiles also liked. Miller and Stiksel tracked down Jones and hired him before he left university. Last.fm racked up 30 million users before being sold to CBS for $280 million in 2007. Its founders resigned from the company in 2009.
The idea for Lumi was already being tossed around in the Last.fm years. “We thought that the technologies that we were using at Last.fm could be adaptable on a much wider scale,” says Stiksel. “This idea kept on nagging us, so two years ago we formed a new team and started working on Lumi. It dawned on us that browsing history contains a lot of information about what you are interested in and could be a really good basis to do recommendations on.”
Lumi is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. It uses your browsing history to build up a profile of your interests. “You don’t have to subscribe to any feeds, you don’t have to tick any boxes. It’s instantly personalized, useful, and dynamic,” says Stiksel. “There are two things we can derive from your browsing history: a very accurate picture of what you are interested in but also the currently trending pages.” Topics are defined using some basic keyword analysis. Combining the topic and trending information, Lumi presents you a feed of relevant stories, or at least that’s the theory. 10,000 alpha users have been road-testing it for some time and now the tool will be open to the public for the first time.
For me Lumi identified some predictable topics like data journalism but also chefs (which was a surprise to me) and the Met Ball. I do have a weakness for photos of the lavish or laughable dresses the stars wore at the latest awards ceremony, but not just at the Met Ball. When it came to recommending content, the suggestions were heavy on tech news and light on frocks, which is unsurprising given its early adopter and I would guess, mainly male, user base.
Since Lumi finds popular links in its topic areas based on the activity of its users, it is dependent on their tastes to provide recommendations. Repeat usage, rather than dwell time, is the main metric. “We want to get them out of our site as quickly as possible,” Stiksel explains. “Lumi is a great jump-off point.”
The business model is undefined as yet, but Stiksel is adamant that it won’t be built on user data. ”We’re not interested in the user providing the data as a commercial asset. We only want them to do this to improve their user experience. We want to monetize the user experience rather than the data itself.”
Lumi is certainly not the only company tackling the web discovery problem. Finnish startup Futureful makes an iPhone/iPad app which also automatically selects topics, but it allows you to combine them to find content. Like Lumi, it tracks your interactions with the content taking note of what topics you combine, what topics you disregard, what links you follow, and whether you read an article to the end.
Futureful founder Jarno M. Koponen explains: “Based on your interactions we create your constantly evolving Futureful profile, i.e., what unique connections you create between topics as well as what pages you seem to enjoy. For everyone, the existence and strength of the connections varies. Different people have different strengths between the connection of ‘Apple’ and ‘iOS’/’Apple’ and ‘health food.’” Futureful also tries to keep you out of the filter bubble by specifically suggesting some topics that you and similar users don’t share.
Miller sees news as merely a starting point for Lumi. “Everything has a web page. Every movie has an IMDB page, every song has a Last.fm or SoundCloud page but also every hotel has a website, every recipe has a website. Everything is sold online or promoted online or explained online. We start with the newsfeed but this goes way beyond news. It’s much wider.”