Jottr is a bold startup trying to create a new window to your web

Information overload

The way we consume the web is flawed. Information comes across as noisy and messy. Why? Because we are limited by gatekeepers such as Google, Twitter and Facebook which are all forcing websites to conform to savvy search engine optimisation strategies on the one hand or pay up for ads on the other. This is what Jottr’s trying to fix.

Stopping off for lunch at the Waterfront in South Africa where the product was partly conceived, founders of the 15-month-old content discovery startup, called Jottr, are meeting each other in real life for the very first time. The trio have been using secure channels such as HipChat to communicate, design and develop their “groundbreaking” search and content discovery platform for over a year now.

Londoner Jay Shah, South African Michael Haupt and George Irwin from Scotland are preparing their company’s pitch to raise between US$3-million and US$4-million from VCs in the US.

They’ve already secured R2.6-million (total £290 000 to be finalised in July) from an Angel from the UK as well as legal services from Perkins Coie LLP, which is one of the largest US law firms backing Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo among many other big shots. The firm has deferred fees in exchange for equity as well as agreeing to list the company as a US entity.

The company further notes that its US ambassador and spokesperson is the former Mayor of Washington, DC Adrian Fenty, who’s inspired by the online platform because of his deep desire to reform education in the US.

Offering an alternative to content discovery we’ve come to know today, Jottr CEO Shah explains that the company is gearing up to take on the old giants of the web, namely Twitter, Google and Facebook which overlook crucial aspects of the web we know today.

The noisy web?

Twitter, Shah believes, has become too noisy and impersonal. “I don’t think anyone uses Twitter anymore apart from software applications,” he pokes. “There are software automatically tweeting stuff and then software that retweets, favourites and follows. You got software applications talking to each other but still people care about followers. It’s incredible.”

Shah reveals that, out of Jottr’s 500 beta users, the average time spent on the platform is about 40 minutes, which is major considering the average time spent on web articles is usually between 15 seconds and one minute.


Jottr is currently in beta

For the first-time user, Jottr comes across as a Flipboard, Feedly, Pulse or Circa competitor but Shah stresses that it’s not an RSS reader as the tech is far more ambitious than what it initially appears to be.

Jottr uses artificial intelligence and neuro-linguistic programming to remember each user’s personal interests as they engage with content. Over time, Jottr’s rich psychographic profile predicts user behaviour.

This unique personalisation feature is done by combining IBM Watson’s language processing as well a bunch of technical algorithms which company CTO Irwin simply refers to as Jottr’s “secret sauce”. Information is thus represented in bite-sized chunks called Jotts which can be read within 21 seconds or less.

The company argues that Jottr solves the web’s infobesity epidemic by filtering out irrelevant content, which people feel overwhelmed by. The world doesn’t need more information — it needs more relevance.

‘The smartest information tool ever’

“There will be advertising,” Haupt admits, “but it’s very specific to the user’s interests.” Not only will adverts target users through Jottr psychometric user data, it also competes with other pieces of information. This essentially means that if nobody engages with an ad, it will disappear and become less relevant to your content listings.

“With Jottr, when you get the news across, it doesn’t matter who it’s from,” says Shah. “The page ranking doesn’t matter.” Whether the blog post is from The New York Times, Memeburn or Coca Cola, its discoverability remains fair and depends on user engagement. The CEO elaborates:

Let’s say you blog something now, in order for you to reach people, you got to do a blogger outreach programme, you’ve got to spend a lot of time on SEO to start scaling it up. But then you’re competing with a lot of other people doing the exact same thing. You might have something amazing to say but because you don’t have the right SEO, your voice is never heard.

While the team believes Jottr’s content discovery system will level the playing field, Shah argues that it will also help publishers and brands understand users a lot better. “For example, at the moment, when you get a user hit on your site, you have Google Analytics which gives you demographic information like there’s a particular guy in London who looked at this page and spent this amount of time.”

He further notes that if you have the Jottr Analytics script on your site, not only will you know it’s a guy from London who spent this particular amount of time, but you’ll know that he’s interested in technology news, artificial intelligence and so on.

Irwin adds that, with Jottr, you can now personalise your website based on the visitor. “For publishing companies, it’s a gold mine because they’ll know exactly that on their sports page, this is the kind of individual who’s spending time on their site,” he says.

“If we go completely blue sky, you can almost throw out the traditional idea of a website. Because all you need is and you give the person exactly what they want.”

Shah explains that websites can now start understanding the user archetype and conform to ways that actually mimics and resonates extremely well with the types of personalities coming back to the site. “It changes the dynamic of how anyone uses the internet because your entire business is now focused on the customer, on what they want to see and what they’re interested in. Not what you’re trying to sell,” he argues.

“The actionable data Jottr plans to provide is inspired by Walmart’s system we know today,” Shah explains. He notes that the US conglomerate for instance knows that if there’s a thunderstorm near this particular Walmart store, it needs extra strawberry pop tarts. The machine then automatically lists an order with the distributors to supply that particular store with strawberry pop tarts, because they know what sells based on previous trending history. “This tech hasn’t been available to anyone else,” the CEO says. “Now it is.”

“It’s fairly similar to what you can do on Facebook and Google, but longer term we want to give people useful insights,” adds Haupt. “The reason for this is because we’re gathering so much data from the weather based on the location the user is in, potentially traffic data.”

Haupt explains that all of this stuff are building a profile: “So if we go to an advertiser now we say that in two days time, in Rio de Janeiro, humidity is going to be above the normal average. The last time this happened, women looked for anti-hair frizz products, so prepare yourself for an increased demand in these.”

Jottr will be pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt in May this year while scouring the VC scene between New York and San Fransisco.

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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