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Summary:

OnSwipe founder and CEO Jason Baptiste says apps are good for some things, but when it comes to publishing content, “they suck.” So the startup gives publishers the same features as an app, but using the web — and it wants to do that for advertisers too.

Baptiste-OnSwipe

Jason Baptiste, co-founder and CEO of New York-based startup OnSwipe, has a slide in the pitch presentation that he does for VCs and others interested in the company that simply says: “Apps are bull****.” That’s a succinct expression of OnSwipe’s view on apps for content. Baptiste believes that dedicated iPad and mobile apps make sense for games or specific tasks, such as looking for a restaurant, but for content, “they suck,” he says. So OnSwipe gives publishers the ability to mimic many of the user interface and features that apps provide, but on the open web — and it wants to do the same thing for advertisers too.

For a company that hasn’t even been around a year, OnSwipe has had a pretty exciting life so far. It started as an experiment launched last June, a WordPress plugin that would allow bloggers to make their websites look nice on the iPad. Baptiste and his co-founder Andres Borreto, who lived in Miami, and a programmer in Mexico came up with the idea and created it in a matter of months. A second version came out a few months ago, the company did a deal with WordPress WordPress parent Automattic Inc. (see disclosure below), and then venture capitalists came calling: OnSwipe raised a $1 million seed round earlier this year from Spark Capital and Betaworks, as well as individual investors such as Dharmesh Shah from Hubspot, and the company joined the TechStars incubator program in New York.

“We started out based in Miami, then we were based sort of part-time in both Boston and San Francisco, and now we’re based in New York,” Baptiste said in an interview recently in the TechStars office in New York, which OnSwipe shares with half a dozen other startups. The company is currently working on closing a Series A funding round — which Baptiste says he likes to call “Series Awesome” — and expects to close it soon, the OnSwipe CEO said.

Baptiste’s view is that publishers got sucked into creating apps for a number of reasons: partly because the iPad was so new, and they didn’t really know what to do to take advantage of it, and apps seemed like the easiest way to go about it — but also because Apple offered an easy route to get the content on the tablet and potentially monetize it. But what publishers give up, the OnSwipe CEO says, is the interactivity, ability to customize and other features that the web allows, plus they have to create multiple versions of their apps for multiple platforms.

With HTML5, however, content publishers can have the swipe features, the page movement, the rich graphics and all the other things that apps provide — and still be open and easily portable to other tablets or platforms. “The web has always been kind of ugly,” says Baptiste. “No one wants to admit it, but it’s true. We wanted to make it look and feel like print, but with the best of the web’s look and feel.”

At first, the company figured it would just license its software platform to publishers who wanted to create a quick app-like experience for the iPad. “But that would just be a services business, not a really big company,” says Baptiste. “Not that that’s bad, but we wanted to do something really big — there’s so much potential there. So we decided to give the software away, and have as many people publish in an infinitely customizable way, and we would build a thread that pulls them all together.”

The idea now, Baptiste says, is to create a kind of networked layer on top of the OnSwipe publishing tools, to turn those tools into more of an ecosystem. So the team built their own version of Instapaper, the service that saves webpages, so that users of OnSwipe could save their pages for later — and the potential there, he says, is to provide recommendations based on what people save (something that YouTube’s founders seem to think is a good idea as well, judging by their recent acquisition of Delicious from Yahoo). Baptiste says he somewhat jokingly thinks of this as the “reader graph,” in the same way that Facebook has popularized the term “social graph.”

The other part of the plan, Baptiste says, is to give advertisers the tools to take their existing print campaigns and turn them into full-fledged app-style pages and features that can be used on an iPad or other tablet. “We want to make beautiful ads too,” he said. OnSwipe is currently testing this idea with “a very large publisher,” said Baptiste.

Disclosure: Automattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

  1. “the company did a deal with WordPress”

    OnSwipe is available on WordPress.com, a hosted version of the WordPress publishing software run by Automattic. I believe you were referring to the Automattic deal, not a “deal” with the WordPress open source software such as updating a plugin’s free Subversion repository.

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    1. Yes, you are quite right Niall — I meant a deal with WordPress’s parent company, Automattic. I will fix that.

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      1. Should read “WordPress.com” parent company, not WordPress. WordPress is the open source software. WordPress.com is a tweaked version of WordPress run by Automattic.

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  2. With all due respect, having encountered a few sites running this software, it is the best advertisement for native apps that I have seen.

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  3. This has a lot of future in the porn industry and the publishers that want to directly charge their users.

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  4. I think the company is on the right track…Swipe will be the dominating style on new web contents…I can see that “Ipad apps interface style” has great impact on web designers…I also agree with the “The web has always been kind of ugly,” comment. Looking forward to see some quality work with such innovative software development…

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  5. meh. sencha already provides a js/css toolkit that mimics iOS app controls on the web stack

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  6. Apps should be about personalized emotions[1,2], web pages are mostly about commoditization.

    “The web has always been kind of ugly,” says Baptiste. “No one wants to admit it, but it’s true. We wanted to make it look and feel like print, but with the best of the web’s look and feel.”

    To which I would say, explain. What is the good look and feel when it’s kind of ugly. Needs some explanation of what is what. In general we are coming out of a area of commoditization of data and moving into an area of personalization of data, which is also visible as social. In other words the underlying organization structure changes, slowly from data organized around servers to data organized around people. It will be hard to fight personalization with pushing just a nicer view port.

    1. http://gigaom.com/2011/03/25/money-can%E2%80%99t-buy-you-love-why-some-apps-work-some-dont/
    2. http://gigaom.com/2011/04/21/what-makes-apps-delightful/

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  7. I have been following this wordpress plugin with interest, however the demo sites I have used with it are quite buggy so far. I disagree that this software is needed because the web is “ugly”, rather it is just that most web sites are not optimized for touch interface, that is what this software provides to publishers. It is a nice idea and if I was publishing a site, I would prefer such a plugin over creating an app that puts apple in control of your publishing business.

    From a business standpoint, I am not sure how they make money since it seems to me there will be others that create similar type plugins/themes that run on top of wordpress and other CMS software and offer it for free or cheap through open source.

    I don’t know what software it is using, but ABCNews.com has a wonderful iPad interface that displays when you visit that site from an iPad. Anyone know what software ABC is using? I think that is the future of iPad publishing instead of the App model.

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  8. “Apps are bull****”
    Not sure about that, the new Al Gore book looks slick (functionally) – Can’t see a web app coming close.

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  9. Onswipe is the least useful plugin for WP I’ve ever tried. And immediately switched off.

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