I am excited to announce the launch of Ukufu!
“Ukufu” is pronounced "ooo-koo-foo", and comes from the Zulu word "ukufunda", which means to learn.
We quietly launched the first version of Ukufu in the Google and Apple App Stores during September 2019. Our team has been iterating on the product ever since … and we now feel that Ukufu has been built out enough to share with a wider audience.
What is Ukufu?
In its current form, Ukufu is a topic-based news and content aggregator (for mobile only at this stage, web version on the way), with some AI tech behind the scenes that helps to categorise the latest news and content articles into relevant topics, and allows the user to save and organise content into folders, and leave short notes on saved items.
Inspiration for Ukufu - Solving the Fragmented Consumption Problem
I am an intense consumer of online content - mostly written content, but audio and video too.
Yet, in 2021, I am frustrated that the easiest way to access a wide range of content still requires using a variety of apps and websites. Coupled with this frustration: no simple way to curate and organise content. I want to be able to funnel interesting content (eg newsletters, website articles, YouTube videos) to one destination, and save and organise this content into folders. To date, I haven’t found the right solution for my use case. (spoiler: Ukufu will have a strong emphasis on both curating AND organising content).
Social Media goes some way to aggregating content. But the "social" layer itself gets in the way and distracts from the content. (As opposed to a "social layer", a "community" layer perhaps could be useful, but that that is a topic for a different post.) On Social Media, from a user’s perspective, the signal to noise ratio remains difficult to optimise.
Social Media platforms are distraction filled rabbit holes, where irrelevant subject matter, adverts, emotional user generated comments, and personal discussions are intermingled amongst posts containing useful content.
A purpose built app that effectively "unbundles" the content aggregation component of Social Media platforms, and adds a bunch of extra specialist configurable controls and organisational tools, will reduce time and effort spent looking for useful content, and, importantly, will also provide access to a long tail of relevant content not exposed through Social Media and mainstream content and news websites.
See the list of Facebook features below (reference https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Facebook_features), and where Ukufu fits into the unbundling of Facebook.
Content aggregation apps are not new. Well known content aggregation apps include Apple News and Google News, and there are many others.
However, there still isn’t a product in the content aggregation space that has captured the hearts and minds of users, the same way that maybe Spotify has in the music streaming space, or Uber has in the transportation on demand space, or Airbnb has in the accommodation space etc.
Our aim is to build Ukufu into a product that captivates, and that fills this gap for the user.
It is also relevant that over the last few years, there has also been a notable improvement in the advancement of AI technologies such as Natural Language Processing, and access to to these technologies has also become cheaper and easier.
The timing is good to use these technologies in a purpose built app, to help tackle removing friction from the content consumption experience.
'Suggested Content' Feature In ManageFlitter - a Mini Use Case
I started to think more deeply around the content curation problem a few years back, whilst working on ManageFlitter - a Social Media Management product. We developed a "Suggested Content" feature.
This "Suggested Content" feature, was designed to help Social Media Managers with targeted content discovery, for the purpose for them to share this content on their Social Media accounts. However, ManageFlitter users' feedback was that they mostly used this feature as a way to efficiently consume high quality content themselves!
Consistent with my own experience, such was the lack of quality content aggregation solutions, that Social Media Managers found that even a rudimentary tool like ManageFlitter's Suggested Content (which wasn't even designed for this task!), was useful as a content aggregator.
This motivated me to tackle the challenge of building a high quality, versatile and powerful content aggregation tool.
[Fun fact: ManageFlitter's Suggested Content feature was adapted into a working prototype of Ukufu, and provided a starting point for our product.]
Long term vision
Our long term vision is to create an operating system, that enables recently published content to accurately find its target audience via a purpose built app(s). This purpose built app(s) will empower professionals to excel at their work.
In order to kick start a product and business, it is useful to put together a product vision.
However, the challenge of business and start-ups, is that the problem you are attempting to solve only crystallises once you begin tackling the problem in earnest. Furthermore, sometimes progress on the product reveals a compelling derivative, or adjacent problem to solve.
The journey ahead will most likely require us to rework our vision, and product execution many times. With this in mind, the first implementation of realising the above vision is our Ukufu app, which has (or will soon have) the following defining components:
- Topic based content feeds: access to the approximately 10 000 articles published in English on the web every day, via content feeds that are updated in real time, organised by topic, and no user generated content embedded in feeds.
- Access to these articles via a powerful but intuitive search, filter, and sort interface.
- Personalised home feed: a constantly improving algorithmic driven mechanism, providing the user with an efficient way to access a cross section of highly relevant articles.
- Keyword alerts: user notification when a new article with keyword(s) is published.
- Native annotation and content organisation capabilities within the app, to assist professionals with managing, building out and maintaining content resources for themselves and their peers.
- Tools for users to augment Ukufu's curation, by manually adding content from across the web into the app.
The below image is from one of our team's initial product brainstorming sessions:
Ukufu bylines from the brainstorming session includes: “Simplifying content and notes”, “Update yourself”, “Content on your terms”, “Cut through the noise”.
For now, we have chosen “Simplifying content and notes” as the byline. We feel this byline captures the spirit of the product that we are trying to create, and addresses the problem that we are trying to solve.
This byline is also most likely to change as we gain a more complete understanding of our users, and their content consumption pain points!
Further thoughts on the "Content Consumption" Problem Space
In the USA, the average amount of time spent consuming content is now 12 hours. That is, for many people HALF of their 24 hour day is spent consuming content!
This is an unsurprising, yet still remarkable statistic.
In 2021, online content provides the basis for professional development, entertainment and helps us stay plugged in to what is happening in our fast moving, interconnected yet complex world.
BUT - the content consumption experience is more fragmented than ever. Products to help discover, consume, and manage content have not kept up, in terms of options and quality.
Our aim, is to build out a specialist aggregator product that is proportionate in quality to the scale of the content consumption challenge.
In particular, content that is relevant to professionals continuing education is constantly being published online, BUT without the right tools. it is very difficult to extract the maximum value out of this content.
The following trends strengthen our argument for the need for a product such as Ukufu:
- Continued increase in the volume of content being published.
- Continued increase in the speed of the "news cycle".
- Pressure on professionals to stay up to date in an environment of increasing velocity of change, and deepening specialisations.
We will work with publishers as long term partners, with the aim to augment their user traffic and / or revenue.
Furthermore, the online publishing industry has faced numerous challenges in an era dominated by Social Media. We hope that Ukufu can play a role in re-energising this industry.
In any business, but especially in a start-up, team is everything. A business is a function of the co-ordinated output of individuals, with the quality of this output directly proportional to both the quality of individual team members, as well as the synergy between team members.
Through their attitudes and actions, team members also collectively create the company’s culture. A healthy company culture underpins the challenging start-up journey with purpose, and a general sense of satisfaction for all team members. A healthy culture leads to happy team members that are productive, and less stressed.
In an industry where demand for quality team members far outstrips supply, I am very proud of the team and culture that we have built to date.
We are a small remote first team, with our HQ in Sydney Australia. We currently have team members in Sydney Australia, Newcastle Australia, Kathmandu Nepal, Dubai United Arab Emirates, and Manila Philippines.
About half of the Ukufu team worked together to build ManageFlitter - a Twitter management platform that has helped over 4 million Twitter users. We are now bringing our product building experience to Ukufu.
Our team shares a passion for working collaboratively to build high quality online products.
We realise that ultimately, our success is dependent on the quality of our execution with respect to the Ukufu product vision. Our success is also dependent on how effectively we can focus on our users, and integrate their feedback. Executing effectively, and building something useful for our users, is inherently difficult, and we try to stay humble to this challenging task ahead.
Ukufu So Far
A quick overview of Ukufu v1.12 (we are iterating quickly, with new releases almost every week - this video will be out of date by the time you watch it, download Ukufu to experience the latest release!):
In the first instance, we are focussing on the "Social Media Manager" user persona. This is a user persona that is well understood by our team, and that has two clearly defined "problems".
Social Media Mangers need to stay up to date with the frequent changes to Social Media platforms. Social Media Managers also need to quickly and easily find the right content to share across their Social Accounts.
An overview of how Ukufu solves the above problems faced by Social Media Managers:
Below is a list of current and upcoming features:
Current available categories and topics include:
Articles in Ukufu topics are curated using a combination of Machine Learning technology, and simple feed aggregation. Over time we will start applying more sophisticated AI to Ukufu's curation mechanisms.
Additional topics will be added regularly, and granularity of topics will also improve with time. For example, Ukufu users will soon have the capability of viewing the current single Social Media News topic feed, as separate component news feeds, that is, Twitter news, Facebook news, TikTok news, Messenger news. etc.
We are particularly proud of Ukufu search.
Ukufu search is simple, yet powerful, and provides an uncluttered list of search results based on a keyword(s).
Our aim is for Ukufu to ultimately sustain itself as a freemium subscription product. At this stage we have no plans to generate any substantive revenue for Ukufu directly from advertising.
Some exciting upcoming feature updates to look forward to:
- Simplified UI:
- Ability for a user to save any external content on a URL to the Ukufu library (edit, feature now LIVE)
- Pinned search: Ability to save keyword searches, and get notified when there is a new search result for that particular keyword search .
We would love for you to download Ukufu, and rate it on the app store. This helps us to get the word out.
Feel free to drop me a line at ceo at ukufu dot com to make contact, or to request to join our group of Ukufu beta testers.
Thank you for joining us on the Ukufu journey.