Apture Seeks to Keep Web Readers Glued On Sites Longer, While Still Enabling Them to Explore the Web

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an existing link that helps them make the connection. In those instances, a reader might highlight a phrase, copy it into Google, and never return to the original site. With HotSpots, Apture “tracks the ‘missing links’ by identifying topics which cause visitors to ‘leak’ out to Google,” Harris writes.

For the startup, the hope is that the HotSpots feature will make the service attractive to more publishers, who can choose either a free version of Apture supported by the sponsored Bing and Yahoo search results that show up in the popup boxes or a paid version without the sponsored search results. The HotSpots feature goes live today at “hundreds” of the publishers who are already using Apture. The company is also offering beta access to the first 300 publishers who sign up starting today.

Harris earned a BS in computer science from Stanford University and spent three years at Apple before returning to Stanford for master’s studies. He says many of the original ideas behind Apture came from his work with BJ Fogg, a pioneer in the area of behavior design who founded Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab. To get users to do something, says Harris, “One theory of behavior design is that you need a trigger, you need motivation, and you need ability.” And as it turns out, he says, ability is far more important than motivation. “If ability is really, really easy, people will click something even if they are not highly motivated. Apture is leveraging that path. If ability is easy, it turns a spark of curiosity into a full flame of exploration.”

Time will tell whether Apture’s HotSpots prove popular with readers and publishers. One limitation in the system is that it depends on signals from the small fraction of Web readers who ever bother to select and highlight something on the page they’re visiting—it’s between 8 and 10 percent, according to Harris. But to compensate, Apture can draw on data from its whole network of sites, which together boast almost a billion page views a month, according to Harris. “The fact that across our entire network a lot of readers all want to know more about Muhammad Ali tells us maybe we should create a link to Muhammad Ali on this page,” says Harris. “So we can be smart not just on a page level but also across the website and the network.”

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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