Inside News360's redesigned newsreader app for Apple's iPad
Finding news online is no problem. Finding news that's actually relevant to you is a huge challenge. News360 delivers all the news that fits each individual: The aggregator app leverages artificial intelligence based on Russian government media monitoring technology alongside social data and behavioral analysis to deliver a personalized feed combining both the biggest news stories of the day, as well as updates on the user's niche interests and passions. News360 scans roughly 200,000 articles daily, weighing factors like language, tone, editorial quality and viral momentum--consumers also can customize subject categories, designate preferred media outlets and bundle sources together to avoid overkill on a particular story or announcement. News360 adds that the more you use its app, the better it understands you, and it guarantees that no two news feeds are alike.
News360 is available for a multitude of platforms including Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone, as well as the web. Earlier this month, News360 unveiled a redesigned version of its free iPad app adding a new, sleeker user interface, an integrated home feed and caching for offline access. FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke to News360 CEO Roman Karachinsky about personalizing news consumption, the iPad revamp and why it's so important to get each app release right.
Roman Karachinsky on News360's origins: Our core team worked in another different company called Medialogia that focused on B2B solutions around semantic analysis. This was in Russia, and we created a system to aggregate Russian media--television, news, the Web, everything in media down to the smallest 2000-person circulation newspaper in Siberia. Our goal was using that information to understand how a particular article impacts the reputation of a company or person, and we did all kinds of complex linguistics to break it down.
Around 2010, all of us involved in this project looked at the platform and thought it would make an interesting foundation for a consumer product. So we spun off News360 and implemented everything to work in English. We launched our first app in November 2010. Then Apple put on us on the front page of the App Store--that was a happy surprise, and a couple hundred thousand people downloaded the app. We've continued to iterate, and now we're on nine different platforms.
Karachinsky on the concept powering News360: Our vision was to create an AI that understands your preferences and psychological profile. Instead of you going to look for things or relying on other people to find them for you, we wanted to create an automatic search platform--when we find something that makes sense to recommend, we will.
Our first app was more oriented to top stories--step by step, we've been adding more tailoring, customization and knowledge about you as a person. We're trying to create a system that caters to what you're interested in, and once we understand that, we can give you narrowly targeted, detailed stories about the subjects that interest you. Our goal is to help you discover new things while guaranteeing you never miss anything you're interested in. We connect to Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader to learn your interests, what kinds of sources you prefer and whether you like humorous content or dry content, for example.
We ask you to tell us which topics interest you out of a broad selection. We try to put some esoteric ones in there, like 'Zombies.' There are more than a million things you can follow. Then we go in and analyze the things you do on Facebook to give us additional data, like any article I've shared with friends or they've shared with me.
News360 creates feeds based on users' interests.
From there we create a single news feed with all these different subjects. What's cool is that it looks like a grid, but each item is a cube, and each side of the cube has different things I can do, like previewing an article before I enter the full story. We also collect all the videos and photography published with stories, and show you the ones we think have the best details. It's a complex algorithm: Different interests have different levels of noise. Large stories with the most impact and splash are covered by the most sources because the editors decided that news was important. But we help you to see everything. It's pretty intelligent.
Our interface is infinite--you can keep scrolling to the right and it never ends. That's good in the sense you always have real-time sources and more content, and bad because it causes anxiety that you'll never finish. So we tell you when it's okay to stop--if you want to continue from there, then by all means, but you'll know more or less everything that's going on. You get a star when you catch up, and you get three stars if you read everything and spend a lot of time in the app. The more stars you have, the more we know about you, and once you collect 20 stars, we can start personalizing more deeply than before.
Karachinsky on News360's new iPad update: This is a major release. We've been working on it for almost eight months. We did a lot of platform work and UI work--all kinds of things.
Eight months is the longest product cycle we've ever had. The effort was split into two parts--a lot of work was on the platform side and evolving the technology. We ran extensive beta tests with people to figure out how they like their news and if we could tailor the mobile experience to them. We worked on this idea of taking different topics and interests, and making them work as a single feed--we wanted users to be able to browse quickly, and not get stuck on specific stories. The idea of cubes that rotate to different sides and aspects was a huge breakthrough for us.
News360 presents articles from different sources.
The other big problem we tackled was taking the story itself and presenting it in a way to help publishers and content creators get traffic while also keeping a 360-degree view with Fox News, MSNBC and The Guardian all in one place and offering different perspectives on a story.
In this age of app stores and promotion, it's very important to get each release right. It's very important to get good feedback and high visibility, or else you get lost.
Karachinsky on News360's business model: We don't monetize our apps at all. They're free, with no ads. That's not always going to be the case. We're talking to publishers constantly. We believe there's value in the connection between content and readers, and we want to monetize around it.
Our focus is on the longtail of content, like niche and local publications and blogs. A lot of it is high quality, but it doesn't get discovered. We want to take that content and make sure it is discoverable, make sure it gets to all the eyeballs it deserves, and help the people who created it monetize. We're looking at putting in advertising, but with better economics than Google Ads. That's our focus, but it might change.
We have tons of product ideas. We want to take our personalization data, and make that work for users. We want to make data socially useful, and we want to show you the people in your social graph who are likely to be most interested in an article before you share it. It's super-useful when you have this understanding of content and people, and you can combine it in different ways.
Karachinsky's advice for aspiring mobile app developers: One thing you must understand is that if you're looking for scale, you have to rely on the App Store mechanics to get you there. So you have to ask yourself questions like 'Is Apple going to like this? Are they going to want to promote it? Does it use new iOS hardware and features?'
You also must be very attentive in terms of usage statistics. Go back and look at the data to determine what's working and what isn't. Generate the data you need to iterate on your product and make it better.
Also make sure you have good PR. It's very helpful when you're building up visibility. That's very important.
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