This article was published on January 28, 2014

Jason Calacanis’ news app launches using human curation to help show the best reporting

Jason Calacanis’ news app launches using human curation to help show the best reporting
Ken Yeung
Story by

Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startup Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startups, parties, and interesting people. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and Google+.

In the world of news consumption, there’s certainly no shortage of ways consumers can find out what’s going on. Some popular services have emerged, including Flipboard, Circa, Feedly, Zite, and others. However, with multiple publications reporting on the same thing, readers could run into duplication and grow tired of trying to find unique and relevant content. is a company that aims to give readers what they want — content that’s uniquely suited just for them — and today it opened up to the public. Founded by serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, today equates itself to being the “Pandora for news” and says it will deliver “over 1,000 of the world’s most important and fascinating stories each day.” But unlike the major news distribution platforms out there, Calacanis says that all content on will be human-curated and only the best.


Creating a new atomic unit for content

At the core of’s app is the notion of a new atomic unit that Calacanis remarked mirrors what Twitter did with 140 characters. Each news listing contains a main image and a maximum of 300 character description. Each one will contain up to 8 facts that are in the story, designed to provide valuable insights to the reader without having to tap or click to read more. The company designed the interface so that each listing will fit snugly onto the screen of a smartphone — but this may not be the case in some listings.


Users can also voice their opinion about a story by thumbing up or down on whether they found the story informative. In doing so, the feedback gets counted by’s algorithm to fine-tune the news content that a particular reader cares about. As expected, if a user thumbs down something, that topic will be removed from the user’s feed. But by thumbing up, it will be added to the user’s personalized feed section, aptly labeled “My Feed.”

Similar to Prismatic, will display news based on interested topics — and there are a few of them, between 2,000 and 3,000 supported to date. Each feed will be different for each user. Each news item will have up to three topics assigned to it by an editor, including a main topic and then two sub-topics that are derived from content within the summary. So a story about the upcoming Super Bowl could have #SuperBowl as its main topic, but then have #NFL and #Football as its two sub-topics.

Each news item that’s displayed is featured in a format reminiscent of Circa, a news startup that Calacanis is an investor in. Everything in the summary is rewritten by a human being, including the title and description. And as stated earlier, the format is limited to just 300 characters.

One interesting trick to the app is the ability to parse through multiple stories in your news feed with similar topics. With a deck of cards feature, users can swipe to the left to read more updates about a particular topic, giving quick access to more topical stories without having to leave your main news feed.


Eliminating bad journalism

Calacanis told us that the idea for came about through the success he had with the LAUNCH Ticker, a service he launched in 2012 to curate technology-related news. To date, that project has 700 paying subscribers and was a test to see whether using human curation could be a successful endeavor. Considered to be the minimal viable product Calacanis needed, the service eventually evolved to become to provide readers with a detailed, but succinct summary of any news across a variety of topics and categories.

One of the interesting features of is its goal of only displaying the best article about a specific story. The app will look at publications with original reporting and commentary and select the best one. In extremely rare occasions, it might choose press releases, but most likely the best source will be listed. It intends to block out “low-quality non-journalists”.

Calacanis appears to be on a crusade to stop the publicity of things that he calls “bad journalism”:

There’s a ton of great journalism out there. The problem is that it gets lost with all the rebloggers and aggregation sites that craft sensationalized and often times false headlines to trick the reader into clicking. Inside solves this by writing fact-filled updates and only directing our users to the best stuff. The people who lose here are those who don’t do original, high-quality journalism.

A news junkie

For Calacanis,’s focus on news makes the most sense as he’s been infatuated with news ever since he started Weblogs, Mahalo, and his popular This Week In podcast series of shows. But, he tells us that the industry is in “turmoil” because publications and sites are looking to optimize their content and readership to their own advantage, not to the benefit of consumers.

Following Mahalo’s fall from grace after Google modified its search algorithm, Calacanis set out to launch But, would another news service be welcomed in the ecosystem?

He has hired Gabriel Snyder, the former editor of The Wire, to help dive into the slew of content and extract the ones that aren’t “schlocky” and display it for the world to see. As you’d expect from any entrepreneur, Calacanis boasts that is the best in that it has summarization technology that is more advanced than the likes of Summly, a company that was acquired by Yahoo in 2013 and powers its Yahoo News Digest app. Calacanis says that readers want to find the 10 best stories that are specific to them, not what another company says should be displayed.

Interestingly, it took a bit longer than expected to get to this point. Following Mahalo, there had been talk as far back as 2012 about Calacanis’ next act, but it wound up being more than a year later before that dream became a reality. He attributes it to the fact that the first version of the app was built for iOS 6 right before Apple unveiled iOS 7. That meant a two month delay while the team rebuilt the whole thing. Then, another delay happened when Calacanis found himself dissatisfied with the service’s algorithm. However, he’s not worried at all, saying: “If you’re in it for the long-term, then take your time.”

Available now on Web, iPhone, and BlackBerry? is available today as a mobile app and also on the Web. Users can log in using Twitter OAuth, Facebook Login, or through email authentication. However, in an era of social media and sharing, it doesn’t have much in the way of pushing content to the major social networks.

Users can download the app onto their iPhone and BlackBerry device. Yes, that’s right — is supported on the platform. Calacanis says that it’s because the Canadian phone manufacturer is an investor in his company and recognizes that device owners need to have a news application. Native versions for Android, iPad, and Windows Phone will be released in a few months, although the mobile Web version is available in the meantime.

So how will make money? Right now the team isn’t thinking about that and won’t be for the next two years. Calacanis says that the company’s focus is going to be on growth and quality. However, he hinted that native advertising may be inserted into the news feed in the future, but didn’t offer specifics.

See related: 20 West-Coast based startups to watch in 2014 for iOS | BlackBerry

Photo credit: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

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