Smashing, from Goodreads’ co-founder, curates the best of the web using AI and human recommendations

Tolani Alvita
8 Min Read

Goodreads‘ co-founder Otis Chandler is back to build the next big app community. But this time, his focus isn’t on books; it’s on the content you can find online, including news articles, blog posts, social media posts, podcasts and more. With Smashing, an AI and community-powered content recommendation app, now launching into an invite-only beta, the goal is to help connect users to their interests by surfacing the internet’s hidden gems.

The launch comes at a time when many news consumers are still lamenting the loss of Artifact, the AI news reader from Instagram’s co-founder that recently sold to TechCrunch parent Yahoo.

At the same time, the media ecosystem is becoming more fragmented than ever with journalists establishing their own newsletters and Substacks. Twitter, once a hot spot for finding the latest breaking news, has morphed into a more right-leaning app “X,” whose existence has prompted a host of new competitors. In addition, changes at Google and Meta have resulted in a sizable drop in traffic to online publishers, leading to widespread media layoffs. And with AI, the situation looks like it may worsen, as apps and Google begin offering AI summaries of news, potentially losing publishers even more clicks.

Chandler believes Smashing can address many of these problems by not only surfacing the articles and posts that are worth people’s time but also encouraging users to visit the publishers’ sites to read more.

“I named Goodreads ‘Goodreads’ and not ‘Goodbooks’ because I one day hoped to add articles,” Chandler said. As it turned out, “books” was a large enough category on its own to sustain the app, which, sold to Amazon in 2013. Chandler continued to work there until five years ago.

Image Credits: Smashing

The Smashing CEO says he always had “itch to scratch around the rest of the content on the web, which is not just articles.” It’s podcasts, blogs, news articles, tweets, social media posts, and YouTube videos, he says. “Any interesting content.”

Image Credits: Smashing

What prompted him to start building Smashing, however, was an experience he had during his sabbatical from work following his departure from Amazon. After a month or two of downtime, Chandler decided to challenge himself by entering a Half Ironman triathlon.

“That led me down a journey of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to learn about training and bicycling, and how to stay in shape and not burn my legs out, and how to eat right for nutrition, how to, therefore, cook better, because I didn’t know how to cook before that,” he said. But, when trying to use a traditional search engine, it was hard to find the best content. “If you just Google, ‘how to train for a Half Ironman Triathlon’ or ‘how to eat healthy,’ you get a lot of content. But it’s not the content you’re really looking for. It’s a lot of SEO-optimized, ad-stuffed pages.”

To try to find the content he wanted, Chandler tried news aggregators, like Apple News and Google News, Reddit, Twitter, social media, and other smaller and medium-sized apps.

“I tried everything I could find, and I was really was dissatisfied with the answers I got. I couldn’t find anything I could dial to give me just good, interesting, accurate content. And that led me to the thesis for Smashing,” Chandler said.

He then teamed up in 2022 with a former co-worker, Greg Veen, now a Smashing co-founder, whose tech background includes founding MeasureMap, which sold to Google, and TypeKit, which exited to Adobe.

From user research, they found that people generally had five or six main interests they’d follow online, including a few related to work and a few that were personal interests. They would follow sources that ranged from niche newsletters to social media influencers to publications and more. But they reported feeling overwhelmed.

Image Credits: Smashing

Built over last year, following a seed round, Smashing’s iOS app lets users follow their interests in a way that’s reminiscent of another AI news app, Artifact, but with a broader focus. Users can submit their own content and thumbs up and down the app’s AI-powered recommendations of content shared by others and aggregated from the web. However, it’s not only limited to news: Anything with a URL can be submitted.

Similar to Digg, a news aggregator from the Web 2.0 era, users can vote up the content they think is interesting and deserves attention. But users will only get 30 votes per day, which they can spend all on one amazing article, or distribute across a wider number of links, depending on their preference.

As with Artifact, users can like, save and comment on articles, too, which further helps surface the best content.

AI technology in Smashing offers summaries of the news, key excepts and interesting pull quotes. AI also helps to identify topics and threads of interest to individual users, but the real “magic happens,” Chandler says, is by creating a community that works in conjunction with the AI.

Image Credits: Smashing

But despite its use of AI, Chandler argues that Smashing should drive traffic to online publishers, not lessen it. “We really designed Smashing to be something that helps you curate interesting, long-form content and drive you to it. We’re not trying to be an aggregated replacement for reading the content. I know a lot of people are playing with that kind of model,” he said. “But, no surprise to you, having done Goodreads, I’m a believer in long-form, interesting content. There’s a narrative out there that the internet is increasingly full of junk. And I think the internet is increasingly full of gems that have to be unearthed.”

Smashing is launching into an invite-only private beta, starting Tuesday.

The startup, also co-founded by Mike Mraz (Condé Nast, Cool Hunting, Hearst), and Dan Barrett (software architect with LLM expertise), has $3.4 million in seed funding from True Ventures, Blockchange, Offline Ventures, Advancit Capital, Power of N Ventures, and angel investors including Balaji Srinivasan, James Currier (NFX), Stan Chudnovsky (Facebook), Chad Byers (Susa Ventures), Gil Elbaz (Factual, Adsense), Abe Burns (Slow Rush Ventures), Adam Jackson (Braintrust), Bryan Goldberg (Bustle) and Ben Rattray (Change.org).

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