Acciyo: Historical Context for the Latest NewsBy Cyrus Schroeder
Acciyo is a Los Angeles-based startup that is simplifying news by providing a timeline of previous articles published on a given subject. Its first product is a browser plugin that curates and displays key bits of information related to topics mentioned in a news article to enrich your overall understanding of the story. I recently sat down with co-founders Anum Hussain and Vivian Diep to discuss Acciyo’s journey thus far and their shared vision to make current events more understandable.
Creating a Narrative for News
We’ve all experienced what it feels like to be out of the loop. A casual conversation among coworkers or friends suddenly shifts to a friendly debate of net neutrality, healthcare reform, or some other esoteric topic, leaving you blankly nodding and making a mental note to run a web search when you get home. But despite the breadth of information we have available at our fingertips, it can be surprisingly difficult to get up to speed on many of the key issues that dominate the headlines. In pursuit of providing the most current content in a brief and digestible format, many news outlets frequently fail to include key contextual information for readers who are less-familiar with a given topic.
“Reading a news article today is sort of like opening up a book at chapter three and trying to play catch up. We want to help you along the way by surfacing the previous chapters of the story.” – Anum Hussain, Co-Founder of Acciyo.
Acciyo’s first product, a web browser plugin, helps bridge this knowledge gap by automatically assembling the pieces of historical information that are relevant to an article. This information is generally very fragmented, and Hussain notes that search engines like Google currently do not arrange news in a way that lends itself to the reader’s understanding. “It’s really hard to go Google something and understand how the story got from point A, to B, to C because Google is optimizing for the most recent article.” says Hussain. Pulling content from reputable news sources, Acciyo instead populates an interactive, zoomable timeline of previous articles published on the subject. Users are also able to directly view brief Wikipedia summaries of key people, places, and other items mentioned in the article. The Acciyo plugin window sits to the right of the web browser window, displaying both the original article and Acciyo content simultaneously. Hussain says the plugin is currently operating in private market beta with a limited number of users but boasts a waitlist of over 500 and counting.
Capitalizing On a Growing Market
Hussain says Acciyo’s target customers are currently active newsreaders who are paying for one to two news subscription services on average. The company conservatively estimates that there are approximately 7 million paying newsreaders in the U.S. and is initially targeting this segment of the market. However, when adding in those who have paid for a combined digital/print subscription or a one off article, app, or e-edition, Reuters places that number much higher. In its 2018 Digital News Report the company found that approximately 16% or 52m of the U.S. population of 327m had paid for some form of an online news service in the past year. Reuters postulates that this figure, which doubled from 2016 to 2017, increased largely in part due to the media frenzy surrounding the 2016 presidential election. This phenomenon, colloquially referred to as the “Trump Bump” among media organizations, appears to have been sustained in 2018, bolstered by increased emphasis on “digital first” strategies from news publishers. Acciyo is not the only company aiming to facilitate the delivery of news content in a more palatable format; Vox Cards, The Hustle, and Morning Brew are just a few examples of other services that simplify news for readers. However, there are few direct competitors that are taking the approach of Acciyo and utilizing technology to solve the problem.
Hussain and fellow co-founder Vivian Diep first came up with the idea for Acciyo after reflecting on their experiences working in journalism and media, contemplating how technology might improve the industry. Hussain started her career as a correspondent for The Boston Globe, but quickly decided that journalism wasn’t the right career fit. She instead began work at HubSpot as a blogger, and over the next several years progressed through numerous marketing roles, led a five-person growth marketing team, and helped the then-nascent marketing software company transition into the sales market. “I had a really great experience at HubSpot, learning all about delivering the right content to the right person at the right time.” But it wasn’t until she started business school at MIT Sloan that Hussain identified the missing link. “I realized at business school, ‘why aren’t we optimizing arguably the most important content on the internet: news content?’” Hussain then spent the remainder of her time at school researching media, conducting interviews, talking to active news readers, and better understanding the news industry.
“When we came together we had this grand vision of creating a company that really transforms the way we read the news today.”
– Vivian Diep, Co-Founder of Acciyo
While Hussain provides the journalistic and marketing intuition behind Acciyo, Diep possesses the technical prowess that makes the technology possible. Diep found a passion with computer science early on, and this in conjunction with her love for social ventures & enterprise led her to the MIT Media Lab. Within the Lab’s Viral Spaces research group, Diep was able to work with companies such as Bloomberg and Univision, analyzing how developments in technology might impact the future of media. “I completely fell in love with that space and realized that in social enterprise, one of the biggest problems was communication, so if we can create a platform where information is more easily accessible and more understandable then we can create a better world.” said Diep of her time working with media companies. Diep then went on to co-found DeepStream, where she met a mutual friend of Anum that introduced the two. The result was Acciyo, which means “to summon” in Latin (depending on who you ask, its origins may also trace back to a Harry Potter spell of the same name). The duo founded the company earlier this year and spent this past Summer at MIT’s deltaV startup studio in NYC, researching and prototyping the product-market fit.
What’s Next for Acciyo?
Right now, Hussain and Diep are soliciting feedback from beta users and working to fine-tune the plugin. In the near-term, the two are focused on preparing their public rollout. Longer-term, Acciyo hopes to expand its offering to target the broader online newsreaders market, which it estimates currently sits at 250 million. Hussain and Diep are also proactively monitoring the development of trends that may pose challenges for the company. One key concern is maintaining data integrity – recent regulatory initiatives, such as GDPR in the European Union, mean that companies are facing greater responsibilities to protect customer information from misuse and exploitation. This Summer, California became the first state to follow suit, passing a similar law called the Consumer Privacy Act, that will go into effect in 2020. Other states are likely to introduce similar legislation, which could prompt companies to begin questioning their current practices around digital privacy. Acciyo will also have to navigate the complexities of AI ethics and how to ensure that its content is devoid of the “fake news” that has become pervasive in media today. Acciyo believes that these challenges actually present an opportunity for Acciyo to leverage technology to improve the veracity of the media ecosystem. In the meantime, Diep says that the company plans to continue addressing these roadblocks head on.
“We are very cognizant and we hope to remain that way. The challenge is to make sure that we don’t lose focus.” – Vivian Diep, Co-Founder of Acciyo.