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On Circa News, algorithms, and business models

I'm sorry to hear that Circa News is on indefinite hiatus. Its founders had the courage to create one of the first companies focused on mobile news, back when it was hardly clear that mobile is eating the world. They devoted years to a vision of making it easier and faster for people to learn about the world around themand influenced other apps that followed.
Circa's iOS app was cleanly designed, fast, easy-to-use, and had innovative features. The obstacle was generating sufficient revenue to pay all those talented writers and editors: Crunchbase says the company has between 11 and 50 employees, which could mean a burn rate of $2M+ a year for 11 employees (perhaps $15K a month ballpark with salary, payroll tax, employer tax, rent, insurance, etc.). That adds up quickly.
We took a different approach when building Recent. AI techniques are now powerful enough, and cloud costs now cheap enough, that an engine to predict what you might want to read can be operated relatively inexpensively  after, of course, the significant engineering costs involved in building it. The Recent engine attempts to deeply understand the day's news; after some 14 months, it has 1.8 billion entries in its index hosted on Google App Engine. And today's operating costs are, as of noon PT, only $10.87.
Our philosophy at Recent is that journalists should be freed from mundane tasks like grouping articles together (which Circa's editorial staff did) or assigning them to different categories based on topics. The Recent engine performs topic assignments and clustering automatically, as you can see in the below screenshot from our iOS app. Journalists' unique talents should be used to research and report.
Some good reporters and editors at Circa may now be looking for jobs. Circa editor-in-chief Anthony De Rosa has posted more information, and if you're in a position to hire, please take a look.
Screenshot from Recent beta (scheduled to be released this week) showing how related articles are automatically clustered together.
Update June 24 2:30pm: Anthony was kind enough to reply on Twitter: "we had nowhere near 50 employees, 8 FT, 6 PT on edit, 6 on prod/dev."
Declan McCullagh is the co-founder and CEO of Recent, a startup that aims to transform mobile news reading through artificial intelligence. He lives on the San Francisco peninsula.
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