Twitter Alums Launch Particle: A Revolutionary AI News Aggregator with $4.4M Funding

A team led by former Twitter engineers is rethinking how AI can be used to help people process news and information. The startup was founded last year by former Senior Director of Product Management at Twitter, Sara Beykpour, who worked on products like Twitter Blue, Twitter Video, and conversations, and who spearheaded the experimental app, twttr. She had been at Twitter from 2015 through 2021, growing her position from software engineering to that of a senior director of product management. The premise behind Particle, as Beykpour explained last month, is to make it easier to keep up with news using AI. We’re hoping to talk in more detail about how Particle vets its sources closer to a public launch.

A team led by former Twitter engineers is rethinking how AI can be used to help people process news and information. Particle.news, which entered into private beta over the weekend, is a new startup offering a personalized, “multi-perspective” news reading experience that not only leverages AI to summarize the news, but also aims to do so in a way that fairly compensates authors and publishers — or so is the claim.

While Particle hasn’t yet shared its business model, it arrives at a time when there’s a growing concern about the impact of AI on a rapidly shrinking news ecosystem. AI-generated summaries could potentially reduce clicks to publishers’ websites, which in turn could decrease their ability to monetize through advertising.

The startup was founded last year by Sara Beykpour, a former Senior Director of Product Management at Twitter, who worked on products like Twitter Blue, Twitter Video, conversations and spearheaded the experimental app, twttr. She had been at Twitter from 2015 through 2021, rising from software engineering to the position of senior director of product management. Her co-founder is former senior engineer at both Twitter and Tesla, Marcel Molina.

The idea behind Particle, as Beykpour explained last month, is to make it easier to keep up with news using AI.

“Sometimes it feels like headlines are all we have time for. We also want to understand more, but faster,” she wrote in an introduction to the startup on Threads. “We’re in the early stages of using AI to transform the way we interact with news.”

Using Particle, news readers are offered a quick, bulleted summary of the story, with information pulled from a variety of sources. However, when announcing the private beta, Beykpour noted that readers can either use the summary to get up to speed or can choose to go deeper to “learn about how a story has unfolded over time.”

The venture-backed startup has raised a total of $4.4 million in seed funding from Kindred Ventures and Adverb Ventures, as well as various angel investors including Twitter and Medium co-founder Ev Williams and Behance founder Scott Belsky. The round closed in April 2023.

Remarked Belsky on X, “Particle has become a daily app for me. It synthesizes the many articles (and angles) on any news topic, surfaces the key points as objectively as possible, and lets you dig further across many dimensions. In the era of abstraction ahead, great example of daily AI,” he wrote.

Particle offers a demo of its technology for logged-out users via its website, where articles are featured along with their summary, timestamp as to when they were last updated, and, in a small section at the bottom, the sources they draw from.

These sources pull from across the political spectrum and include big-name publishers like The New York Times, CNBC, the AP, ABC, CNN, Breitbart, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Politico, Fox News, USA Today, The Daily Caller, New York Post, The Hill, and others. International outlets are also included when relevant, as indicated by the demos. However, each bullet point is not linked to its original source(s), making it difficult to fact-check the accuracy of the AI summary without delving into all the articles. (Key terms are, however, linked.) We also noted that the photograph accompanying a news summary is watermarked with the publisher’s logo.

The end product will likely differ, as Particle is just now launching its private beta for testing and intends to offer a mobile app in the future, as they are currently hiring for a senior iOS engineer.

A similar model of leveraging a variety of news sources and then employing AI to summarize was recently employed by Artifact, the now-shuttered startup from Instagram’s co-founders. In their case, Artifact’s team curated the news sources upfront based on factors related to integrity and quality. For example, the outlet had to be quick to make corrections, when wrong, and be transparent about their funding. We hope to speak in greater detail about how Particle vets its sources closer to its public launch.

Another AI-powered news app, Bulletin, also recently launched with the goal of tackling clickbait and offering news summaries.

With the growing interest in this space, what could set Particle apart is its founding team. Coming from Twitter, the co-founders have firsthand experience with the fast-paced news ecosystem and have the technical and product expertise to create a high-quality product. Whether or not publishers who feel that AI summaries are “eating into” their space will feel “fairly compensated,” however, remains to be seen.

April Underwood, co-founder and managing director of Adverb Ventures, praised Particle in a post on LinkedIn about the firm’s investment.

“We got the opportunity to back them just as we were finalizing our very first close for Fund 1 — we had to wait for our first capital call to hit to wire them the money!

She continued, adding that Adverb closed its $75 million Fund 1 just a few months ago. “Sara and Marcel are the kind of founders we dreamed of backing when we set out to build a new early-stage firm. They are tackling a big problem space. They have the skills to tackle major problems at a high level of product quality. And they can attract other talented individuals to join them and together, create a future that consumers haven’t yet asked for,” Underwood wrote.

In an email with TechCrunch, Underwood discussed the potential ahead:

In terms of this space, we believe that AI will have an impact on every aspect of people’s digital lives — whether at work or at home. Combine that with the existing conditions at play — difficulty finding trustworthy breaking news and the constantly evolving social media landscape — and it seems likely that the way people consume news will be different a few years from now. Sara and Marcel are uniquely prepared to help people stay informed in a modern way.

When speaking with TechCrunch, Beykpour explained that the idea for Particle arose from the challenges of staying informed and up-to-date with current events. However, the company is still in the process of speaking with publishers to determine what they would need to feel adequately compensated in a model where AI is generating summaries of their work.

“Honestly, we’re still figuring that out. We’re currently talking to and working with publishers to establish what the right model is,” she says. “But my goal is to make it fair.”

The company expects to have more news to share on this front in the coming months. In the meantime, Particle’s beta sign-up form can be found here.

Updated after publication with additional comment from Underwood. 2/26/24, 4:30 p.m. ET. Updated, 2/29/24, 8:30 a.m. PT with funding details.

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Ava Patel

Ava Patel is a cultural critic and commentator with a focus on literature and the arts. She is known for her thought-provoking essays and reviews, and has a talent for bringing new and diverse voices to the forefront of the cultural conversation.

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