App makes teen a fortune

Updated: 2013-03-28 08:40

(China Daily/Agencies)

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App makes teen a fortune

Nick d'Aloisio displays his mobile application Summly, which he has sold to Yahoo for a massive but undisclosed amount of money, making him a Net sensation. [Photo/Agencies]

Program gives users condensed version of stories

At 17, he's a tech whiz, he's rich - and he can even offer some advice on how to raise your children.

Teenage programmer Nick d'Aloisio's decision to sell his news application Summly to Yahoo for what's rumored to be a massive payout has turned him into a media sensation. The sale caps a short but successful career at Apple Inc's vast app store, where hundreds of thousands of pieces of software compete for the attention of smartphone and tablet users.

The US tech giant announced on Monday that it is buying D'Aloisio's news-condensing mobile app Summly for an undisclosed figure that media reports put at around $30 million - making the London schoolboy one of the youngest self-made multi-millionaires on the planet.

D'Aloisio dreamed up Summly while studying for a history exam when he was 15 - but two years later he speaks of market share and intellectual property with the self-assurance of a CEO three times his age.

"Yahoo is one of these classic, well-known Internet companies," he said in an interview at the office of his London publicist.

In another interview on Tuesday, D'Aloisio said his computer skills were self-taught, explaining that he started by mastering movie-making software before tackling programming languages.

He said his parents were "very enthusiastic and supportive". Asked what advice he would give couples hoping to raise their own wunderkinds, he urged them to let their children explore their own paths - be it computer science or drama.

"If there's a natural curiosity, that'll lead to, eventually, some success," the teenager said.

Summly is one of several apps that D'Aloisio has designed. It uses complex algorithms to automatically condense online news content into attractive little blocks of text that are useful for the small screens of smartphones.

Supportive friends

D'Aloisio said he was thrilled to be working for a "classic Internet company" - Yahoo is older than he is - and he laughingly dismissed a reporter's suggestion that his friends might be jealous.

"All my friends have been very supportive," he said.

He noted that the publicity over Summly had been building for more than a year, meaning he and those close to him had had time to adjust to the outside attention.

D'Aloisio had already received investment from several sources, including venture capitalist backer Li Ka-shing.

Asked what he'll do with the payout, he responded with serious answers unbefitting of an adolescent. He said the money was being kept in a trust until he turns 18, and he didn't seem interested in talking about what he'd buy for himself for his next birthday.

"I'd like to keep it safe. Bank it ... If I was to do anything it'd be angel investing," said D'Aloisio.

The teen app expert said he was interested in automated technologies that could anticipate users' needs before they even reached for their smartphones - such as an app that downloads the day's news stories just before a user steps into a subway.

D'Aloisio said there were no copyright concerns about Summly, which works by running a statistical analysis of the text to guess which bits are the most relevant, to keep stories short. Media companies such as New York-based News Corp have collaborated on making their content more Summly-friendly, he said, arguing that shortening software would ultimately be beneficial for content providers. "We're introducing their content to a new, younger demographic," he said. "You like the summary, you read the whole story. It increases publisher viewership."

Imperfect technology

The technology isn't foolproof. He said the app sometimes has trouble shortening long or highbrow pieces, but he noted that humans, too, have trouble summarizing sprawling stories.

The deal announced on Monday is Yahoo's fifth small acquisition in the past five months. All have been part of CEO Marissa Mayer's effort to attract more engineers with expertise in building services for smartphones and tablet computers, an increasingly important area of technology that she believes the Internet company had been neglecting.