News.me launched last week as an iPad app and as an email service. Here is some background on why and how we built News.me:
Why News.me? For a while now at bitly and betaworks, we have been thinking about and working on applications that blend socially curated streams with great immersive reading interfaces.
Specifically we have been exploring and testing ways that the bitly data stack can be used to filter and curate social streams. The launch of the iPad last April changed everything. Finally there was a device that was both intimate and public — a device that could immerse you into a reading experience that wasn’t bound by the user experience constraints naturally embedded in 30 years of personal computing legacy. So we built News.me.
News.me is a personalized social news reading application for the Apple iPad. It’s an app that lets you browse, discover and read articles that other people are seeing in their Twitter streams. These streams are filtered and ranked using algorithms developed by the bitly team to extract a measure of social relevance from the billions of clicks and shares in the bitly data set. This is fundamentally a different kind of social news experience. I haven’t seen or used anything quiet like it before. Rather than me reading what you tweet, I read the stream that you have selected to read — your inbound stream. It’s almost as if I’m leaning over your shoulder — reading what you read, or looking at your book shelves: it allows me to understand how the people I follow construct their world.
As with many innovations, we stumbled upon this idea. We started developing News.me last August after we acquired the prototype from The New York Times Company. For the first version we wanted to simply take your Twitter stream, filter it using a bitly-based algorithm (bit-rank) and present it as an iPad app. The goal was to make an easy to browse, beautiful reading experience. Within weeks we had a first version working. As we sat around the table reviewing it, we started passing our iPads around saying “let me look at your stream.” And that’s how it really started. We stumbled into a new way of reading Twitter and consuming news — the reverse follow graph wherein I get to read not only what you share, but what you read as well. I get to read looking over other people’s shoulders.
What Others Are Reading…
On News.me you can read your filtered stream and also those of people you follow on Twitter who use news.me. When you sign into the iPad app it will give you a list of people you are already following. Additionally, we are launching with a group of recommended streams. This is a selection of people whose “reading lists” are particularly interesting. From Maria Popova (a.k.a. brainpicker), to Nicholas Kristof and Steven Johnson, from Arianna Huffington to Clay Shirky … if you are curious to see what they are reading, if you want to see the world through their eyes, News.me is for you. Many people curate their Twitter experience to reflect their own unique set of interests. News.me offers a window into their curated view of the world, filtered for realtime social relevance via the bit-rank algorithm.
Streamline Your Reading
The second thing we strove to accomplish was to make News.me into a beautiful and beautifully simple reading experience. Whether you are browsing the stream, snacking on an item (you can pinch open an item in the stream to see a bit more) or you have clicked to read a full article, News.me seeks to offer the best possible reading experience. All content that is one click from the stream is presented within the News.me application. You can read, browse and “save for later” all within the app. At any given moment, you can click the browser button to see a particular page on the web. News.me has a simple business model to offer this reading experience.
Last week we launched the iPad News.me application and a companion email product. The email service offers a daily, personalized digest of relevant content powered by the bit-rank algorithm, and is delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m. EST each morning. The app. costs $.99 per week, and we in turn pay publishers for the pages you read. The email product is free.
How was News.me developed? News.me grew out of an innovative relationship between The New York Times Company and bitly. The Times Company was the first in its industry to create a Research & Development group. As part of its mission, the group develops interesting and innovative prototypes based on trends in consumer media. Last May, Martin Nisenholtz and Michael Zimbalist reached out to me about a product in the Times Company’s R&D lab that they wanted to show us at betaworks. A few weeks later they showed us the following video, accompanied by an iPad-based prototype. The video was created in January 2010, a few months prior to the launch of the iPad, and it anticipated many of the device’s gestures and uses, in form and function.
On the R&D site there are more screenshots and background. The Times Company decided it would be best to move this product into bitly and betaworks where it could grow and thrive. We purchased the prototype from the Times Company in exchange for equity in bitly and, as part of the deal, a team of developers from R&D worked at bitly to help bring the product to market.
With Thanks … The first thank you goes to the team. I remember the first few product discussions, the dislocation the Times Company’s team felt having been air lifted overnight from The New York Times Building to our offices in the heart of the Meatpacking District. Throughout the transition they remained focused on one thing: building a great product. Michael, Justin, Ted, Alexis — the original four — thank you. And thank you to Tracy, who jumped in midstream to join the team. And thank you the bitly team, without whom the data, the filtering, the bits, the ranking of stories would never be possible. As the web becomes a connected data platform, bitly and its api are becoming an increasingly important part of that platform. The scale at which bitly is operating today is astounding for what is still a small company, 8bn clicks last month and counting.
I would also like the thank our new partners. We launched with over 600 publishers participating. Some of whom you can see listed here, most are not. Thank you to all of them we are excited about building a business with you.
Lastly, I would like to thank The New York Times Company for coming to betaworks and bitly in the first place and for having the audacity to do what most big companies don’t do. I ran a new product development group within a large company and I would like to dispel the simplistic myth that big companies don’t innovate. There is innovation occurring at many big companies. The thing that big companies really struggle to do is to ship. How to launch a new product within the context of an existing brand, an existing economic structure, how to not impute a strategy tax on a new product, an existing organizational structure, etc. These are the challenges that usually cause the breakdown and where big company innovation, in my experience, so often comes apart. The Times Company did something different here. New models are required to break this pattern, maybe News.me will help lay the foundation of a new model. I hope it does and I hope we exceed their confidence in us.