Apture HotSpots makes the whole web like Wikipedia

Apture, the San Francisco-based startup, has made a very useful addition to its “contextual exploration engine” technology, which allows content publishers to add rich media features to their web pages.

The company announced Wednesday a new feature called “HotSpots” that automatically creates new visible hyperlinks within online content based on what readers are likely to want to know more about.

HotSpots is a natural progression of the Highlights feature Apture rolled out a year ago, which lets readers highlight any phrase on the page and learn more about the topic through a small pop-up window that includes information such as Wikipedia entries, related images and videos. HotSpots tracks the phrases that readers have highlighted most often and turns them into visible hyperlinks to let users know that there are particularly interesting topics they may want to learn more about.

With HotSpots, Apture is essentially “rewiring the web based on where missing links should be,” CEO Tristan Harris (pictured here) told me in an interview this week. Publishers such as Scientific American, the Denver Post and the Nation like Apture because it keeps readers engaged with their content without needing to open a new tab and navigate away from the page to learn more about a certain topic, Harris said. To enable Apture on their websites, publishers just have to add one line of JavaScript code. HotSpots is also available as a browser extension — so if you love it as a reader, you can take it with you practically anywhere you go on the web.

“We want the whole web to be as rich and interconnected as the most engaging sites on the web like Wikipedia or Facebook,” Harris says in a blog post announcing the HotSpots feature. “On those sites, everything you want to know about is already cross-referenced and linked together.”

I’m a very curious person so I go through the “highlight, copy, search in new tab” rigamarole probably hundres of times per day. I tested out the HotSpots feature, and I must say I was impressed. The HotSpot link is clear but unobtrusive, and the pop-up appears when you hover over it. Apture’s information is relevant and spam-free — which might be the opposite of the traditional hyperlinks with ads made by contextual advertising companies. I can see HotSpots being especially useful for older readers who may not be as used to highlighting and searching for terms they’re interested in learning more about.

What’s especially impressive is that Apture built out this technology — and signed up big-name publishers — with just 12 full-time employees. The company has raised $4.1 million since its inception in July 2007, and already performs some 900 million page loads a month with its Highlights product. Apture provides its technology to publishers in a free ad-supported version and a paid version with no ads. Harris declined to provide the company’s current revenue figures, saying that so far Apture has been focused more on getting the product out there than on charging a lot for it. “We’re still really optimizing for distribution, and you don’t want to inhibit your growth early on.”

Here’s a screenshot of what HotSpots looks like:


Image of Tristan Harris courtesy of the company.