Magazine-style iPad apps that present news in new ways have flourished in the past year, with Flipboard leading the charge. One project that has sounded intriguing ever since the first whisperings of its existence emerged, is Bit.ly’s News.me app, created in collaboration with the New York Times’ R&D Lab. Today it’s gone live in the App Store.
News.me is a social news service built on top of Twitter, creating a stream of the ‘best’ news being shared by people you follow. In addition to people who you already follow, the app suggests ‘featured users’, such as well-known VC Fred Wilson, Digg founder Kevin Rose and AOL’s Arianna Huffington.
Once you’ve picked your ‘sources’, you get to the news itself. The Twitter accounts you’ve added as sources are listed across the top, with your own account as default. For each account, you get to see a stream of what News.me’s algorithm chooses is the ‘best’ content from each Twitter stream – not the links each user has shared themselves, but the links being shared by the people they follow. The result is a peek into a news stream curated by a mixture of who each user has chosen to follow on Twitter and what the app selects as most interesting.
News.me’s interface isn’t quite as eye-catching as Flipboard, opting for a functional, vertically scrolling list approach over a magazine-esque look. You can expand short previews of news stories to reveal more using your fingers or tap on a story to open it up in full screen view.
While the app can display any web content, it’s optimised for publisher that have paid to partner with the service (The Next Web is a launch partner). Partner publishers get their content reformatted in a stripped-down, easy to read format with links to related stories on their sites linked to at the foot of their news stories.
Publishers are paid a licensing fee for their content to be displayed in the app, but it’s where the income to pay these fees is from that’s the most interesting thing about the whole app. News.me is charging users $0.99 per week to access the service, or $34.99 for an annual subscription – after a 7 day free trial.
Is it worth the fee when you can get Flipboard, Hitpad or a number of other tablet-focused news apps for free? That can only be answered over time. Flipboard, for all its charms, quickly lost its novelty value for me as personally I want quick news – not a laid-back discovery experience. The other question is, can it add up as a commercial proposition? Payments are made using Apple’s in-app subscription service, meaning that the guys in Cupertino will be taking a 30% cut.
If you want a Twitter -style news discovery approach, with all the chatter of Twitter stripped out and some algorithmic goodness helping to keep things interesting, News.me is definitely worth a try. Its simple UI and ‘Plain Jane’ looks may put some off, but this is about easy access to news, not bells and whistles.