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Trapit brings its personalized search app to the iPad — where it belongs

trapit ipad appLast year, startup Trapit introduced itself as an antidote to the overwhelming state of Web search with its personalized, Pandora-like application. Now Trapit is transitioning from your browser to the iPad screen, adding it to the mix of tablet search alternatives.

Trapit was spun out of the same DARPA-funded project that spawned Siri, and uses the same AI technology, just applied to search discovery rather than a virtual personal assistant. At surface level, Trapit’s system allows you to tailor search to your interests, and the application learns from what you like and share in order to deliver information you actually want to see.

Chief product officer and co-founder Hank Nothhaft, Jr. tells me that the site’s been growing and retaining users nicely since its launch in 2011. The average user visits the site for between 16-18 minutes two to three times a day, and numbers have generally been on the up.

As a browser app, Trapit is fine; it’s an interesting and unique way to access content. There’s a very real problem with the signal-to-noise ratio online, and Trapit is one of a few different solutions out there that offers some organization and qualifiers to help find and choose what we read. For the Web, it’s a novelty, and it’s a good one — but the tablet is where Trapit really makes sense.

Mobile search is on the rise, and refining the platform for this is still evolving. Turns out Google Search often fails when it comes to discovery and consumption. And that’s why apps like Flipboard and Zite have become so popular. While you might be inclined to lump Trapit in with that group, there are a few distinct differences.

For starters: the impact of social networks. While the app lets you connect via Facebook or Twitter (or email, if you prefer), it isn’t pulling the content circulating these sites and simply repackaging it for you. This is something that set another reader app, News360, apart. Personalization is important and while you might like your Facebook friends just fine, you don’t necessarily like the crap they are reading.

trapit trapsPerhaps the most telling differentiator is sources. This is important: you can make the slickest, smoothest, best-looking iPad reader app in the entire world — but if it’s only accessing a pittance of what the Web has to offer, then it’s a failure and I’d be better off using Alta Vista. Trapit pulls content from 120,000 sources — more than Google News, says Nothhaft.

The thing that really distinguishes Trapit is a combination of the personalization and superior sources. Beyond its news reader application, what Trapit really wants to do is personalize the Web. There are already a slew of applications that pull news stories from sources you like about information you’re interested in, but there’s a subtle yet important difference in adding your voice to every search and curating the list as you go.

Concepts aside, the Trapit iPad app features some incredibly refined features for a first iteration. Nothhaft showed me an early, early version of the app back at SXSW this spring, and it’s come leaps and bounds since then. “It wasn’t ambitious enough,” he tells me. “It didn’t give it the end-to-end experience that we wanted.”

trapit trapsIn addition to an embedded reading list, the main panel of the app will show your various “traps” in separated banners that you can individually scroll through. Selecting one will take you to yet more content that fits under the respective subject. Every story is sharable, saveable, and allows you to thumbs up or thumbs down it, teaching Trapit more about your preferences. The right-hand side bar is home to new discoveries that are happening in real time. And you can either drag to refresh or allow it to surface new stories automatically. You’re signalled whenever anything new rises to the top here as well.

You’re kept within the Trapit app the entire time; links, video, photos, sharing — nothing will pop you out of the Trapit experience — a nice, fluid approach.

Trapit, which is optimized for Retina display, has begun to realize its potential in iPad app form. There’s clearly a difference between customized content (which, in reality, is a really easy and vague box to check) and personalized content (which, if truly accomplished, takes some real work). Choosing this route and applying it to the iPad makes Trapit a compelling option for accessing the wild world of Web content.

Nothhaft tells me it’s “reasonable to assume” that an iPhone app is in the works with similar branding to the iPad app but retooled to make sense on the smaller screen. And while mobile seems like the most natural fit for Trapit, he also tells me it’s “reasonable to assume” that an overhaul of the Web app consistent with its mobile versions is also on the roadmap.

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