Introducing “Getting the News”

People have been finding, consuming, and talking about news for centuries — but the in the last 10 years we’ve dramatically changed how we interact with it.

At, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about how we can improve the way that people find, consume, and talk about news. These brainstorms tend to move our thinking forward, but over the course of the last few months, our most meaningful conversations have happened (as Steve Blank would say) “outside of the building.”

We talk to a lot of brilliant people about the way that they use news, and it occurred to us that others might find these conversations as fascinating as we do. With that in mind, we’re pleased to launch a new series on the Blog: "Getting the News.”

Each week, we’ll share some of the most interesting conversations that we’ve had with industry experts like Robin Sloan and Khoi Vinh. But we’re also casting a wide net. In the weeks ahead we’ll share responses from university presidents, journalists using social media, and our parents (you read that right). The more we know about how people read the news, the better prepared we’ll be to make the best news experience available.

Stay tuned with your tool of choice (RSS, Twitter, Tumblr).

Looking for #7 is only a few months old as a standalone company. When we spun out of bitly in September and started building out the team, we had some hard decisions to make around hiring philosophy. We looked around at products that we admire - from startups like Instagram and Foursquare all the way up to massive companies like Apple, and tried to understand what about their hiring culture led them to such amazing products.

The answer, then, was fairly straightforward - we had to set a nearly impossible standard for hiring our first team members. We knew that each founding member would be responsible for hiring tens and (hopefully) hundreds of other team members in the years to come, and so we knew that setting that bar high at the outset was critical to our long term success and evolution. So far so good: we’ve assembled a small team of developers and designers from companies like the New York Times, Conde Nast, Adobe and MLB.

With that in mind, we’re looking for team member #7.  From a technical perspective, this person should have a strong knowledge of python, and experience building large-scale/large-data web applications.

More importantly, we need this 7th team member to dive deep into the data sets at our disposal  the millions of articles flowing through the Twitter streams of our users and the bitly dataset that we are just beginning to understand (all 8 billion clicks per month).

There are fascinating social signals embedded within these massive data sets, and our data science today is just barely scratching the surface of what is possible. How do we understand and expose signals from 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree connections? How do we extract meaning from overlapping relationships and network density? How do we think about sorting and filtering in a world where content is organized by people instead of categories?

But this role doesn’t begin and end with data. Our #7 should have a passion for user experience, product, and network design, that goes beyond the technical. We’re not in the business of delivering data, we’re in the business of using data to enable conversation.

This core team is responsible not only for setting and delivering on the vision for the product, but for the company as well. The culture that we foster (from red vines, to growlers, to coffee blogs) will pervade the organization for decades.

We’re fascinated by emerging devices like the tablet and smart phone, we’re fascinated by how people find, consume, and discuss the news — how people effect content and how content effects people. We want to change the world and do it with the best and most dangerous team in the industry.

If you do too, email me:

Watching News Break

Here at we’ve been looking at the best ways to get news to our users. One problem that we’ve been thinking about a lot is breaking news. What is breaking news in a world with 24-hour access to information? What kind of information should a breaking news update convey?
Yesterday morning, needless to say, gave us an amazing view into the mechanics of breaking news. We all woke up to the news that Moammar Qadaffi had been finally overthrown in his last stronghold in Sirte, Libya — and later discovered that he had been killed.
Several news organizations were covering the news as it happened. We were following the news on The New York Times’ Lede blog, The Guardian’s Middle East Live blog, Al-Jazeera, the AP, and of course, Twitter — specifically @BreakingNews, and @antderosa, social media editor for Reuters. 
In an effort to learn how news organizations reacted to the chaotic storm of information in the first several hours after the attack on Sirte, I broke down the stream of content coming from liveblogs and Twitter. You can see the moments during which crucial decisions on coverage had to be made by reporters and editors as events unfolded. 
First Reports…
The first news was that Sirte had fallen; AP, Reuters, CNN, and Al-Jazeera cited sources on the ground in Libya with firsthand knowledge of the takeover. At 5:05am EDT, the AP broke the news:

The Guardian cited the AP as their first source, then immediately sourced Reuters to confirm the AP’s report.

Al-Jazeera had their own witnesses on the ground:

When it was relatively clear that Sirte had fallen, which most news sources could independently confirm through their own reporters or through other news sites, reporters quickly moved on to the next big question: Where was Moammar Gaddafi?
How many different ways can you say “we don’t know?”
As far as I can tell Reuters was the first to publish knowledge of Gaddafi’s body, though they believed him to be wounded, not dead. (He may have been merely wounded at the time.)

With this early coverage, Reuters quickly established credibility in the ongoing story. Presumably they had a good source, because Reuters was covering the news of the body first — reporting a wounded Gaddafi and then reporting his death minutes later.
This Guardian snapshot of a ten minute window when unconfirmed reports were flying provides a good example of how much news organizations knew and yet how little they felt comfortable confirming. There are at least three different ways of saying “we don’t know” below.

The Race to Confirm
What kind of confirmation does a news organization need? Well, confirmation by an independent organization would have been a good start. Libya’s NTC was not a great source — after all, they stood to gain by Gaddafi’s death. So the next best source would be a third-party organization on the ground in Libya. There happened to be two: NATO and, of course, the United States.
As Reuters had news of the body first, they were the first to call NATO to ask about the body. NATO would not confirm.

Neither would the U.S. State Department.

Of course, there is one other way to confirm hard news — visual evidence. Reporters from Reuters and Al-Jazeera may have been calling government organizations, but they were also on the ground.
At 8:24am EDT The Guardian published a photo via Agente France Presse (a French-language newswire) allegedly taken from a cell phone showing a wounded Gaddafi. The photos are gruesome, so click through with caution.
AFP not only got the cell-phone photos, they also got the first photos of the location where Gaddafi was killed. It should be pointed out that these photos were out and circulating before NATO had even confirmed with the media that they had attacked Sirte Thursday morning — let alone that they had any information about Gaddafi’s death.
At this point, we start to see the story emerge on the New York Times homepage, with yet no mention of Gaddafi’s alleged death. With continuing coverage happening on their blog The Lede, the New York Times reserved the homepage for a different degree of accuracy.


Finally, at 10:20am EDT, five hours after their first report, AP confirmed Gaddafi’s death with Libyan and American officials.
After official confirmation, the New York Times finally updated their homepage to reflect what by then had become a fully vetted piece of information.


It’s not uncommon to hear about the threat that real-time distribution poses to ‘quality’ journalism. This isn’t anything new — speed has always been at odds with accuracy. When the telegraph emerged in the 19th century, journalists and readers struggled to locate that new equilibrium.
A new pattern of breaking news distribution and verification is emerging. Today we watched as an important piece of information transformed from Tweet, to live blog, to front page headline, ultimately culminating in a physical, permanent version set to arrive on newsstands the following morning. This transformation was accompanied by an ever increasing level of confirmation and fact-checking, and it represents the evolution of a trade-off between speed and accuracy that users and journalists alike are beginning to wrap their heads around.
So, what does it all mean? Different media lend themselves to different user expectations and different journalistic standards. With a more durable medium like a newspaper, information tends to have a lifetime of 24 hours. If a piece of information is published and can’t be taken back or amended for 24 hours, you better be sure that that information is correct. On the other hand, a more ephemeral medium like Twitter or a live blog is subject to a lower threshold for accuracy since errors can be remedied instantaneously. The New York Times homepage is probably somewhere in the middle - its visibility lends itself to a degree of permanence less than that of a newspaper but certainly greater than that of a live blog.
As we rethink what ‘breaking news’ means in a media landscape where reader demand for the distribution of important information tend towards now, we ought to pay close attention to the evolving norms around journalistic standards. Readers expect a certain level of accuracy on the homepage that is different than the level of accuracy on a live blog, which is again different from the level of accuracy expected from a staff member sitting in front of Tweetdeck. All three sources may stand behind a single, trusted brand, but each medium lends itself to meaningfully different reader expectations and journalistic standards - as they should.

Making your inbox happy

Today, we’re pleased to announce a complete overhaul of the Daily Digest is delivering tools to make your social news discovery experience better. We built an iPad app that leverages what the tablet is good at — deep immersion in gorgeous content — to help you explore your news stream and the streams of those that you follow on Twitter.

We also launched a Daily Digest, to help make your mornings more efficient. We look at news content flowing through your Twitter stream for the last 24 hours, and send you an email with the must reads.

There is a lot of phenomenal content on Twitter, but that’s just the problem  there is a lot of phenomenal content on Twitter. With some clever algorithms, we save you the time and energy of wading through all of that content. Our machines do the work so that you don’t have to.

My email arrived this morning — check it out: 

We’re also starting to show you what your friends have been reading in — both from the iPad app and the Daily Digest. This is a really interesting way to discover news, and a wonderful way to start a conversation. Take a look:

But perhaps what we’re most excited about is that fact that these Digests can now be found online! If you receive the Daily Digest via email, you can find a web version at[yourtwitterhandle]. 

Here’s a few from this morning that we love:

If you haven’t yet, go get your own at (your web version and email will be delivered tomorrow morning).

We’re eager to hear any feedback that you have on the redesign or the web version, so shoot us an email at

This is only the beginning - stay tuned for more…

p.s. Share your Daily Digests in the comments below. We’re eager to see them! is all grown up (and now free)!

We’re pleased to announce that has officially spun out of bitly to run as an independent company under betaworks. Here’s what John Borthwick has to say about the change on his blog:

Over the past year, has been incubated within bitly. Today, we’re pleased to announce that has officially spun out of bitly into an independent company under betaworks. As I wrote earlier this year, with we are seeking to rethink and reinvent the way that people discover news; I’m very excited that is now set up and running as a standalone company with the resources it needs to fully pursue that vision.

Michael Young, who has been with since its inception at the New York Times R&D lab, will continue to lead the development efforts as Chief Technology Officer. He’ll be joined by Rob Haining (of Epicurious, GQ, and Idea Flight app fame) who is leading iOS development, and Justin Van Slembrouck (from Adobe, where he designed the Times Reader application) overseeing User Experience and Design. Jake Levine, formerly Entrepreneur in Residence at betaworks, is joining as General Manager. is on a mission to reinvent an industry - to use what we’ve learned from the social web to make the discovery and consumption of news better. Today, we have two products:

The iPad app allows you to discover news the way that experts discover news, by exposing the carefully curated reading lists of well known Featured Users like New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington, and Reuters’ Felix Salmon.

The app gives you that same view into the streams of the people you follow on Twitter, whether industry experts or your friends and family.

It does all this in an immersive and tactile experience, perfect for your commute, weekends at home, or catching up on news at the end of the day.

Best of all - in anticipation of a series of additional releases over the next few months, we’re excited to share that the iPad app is now free! Go get it! (If you downloaded the original version of the app, please see our notes below.)*

We’ve also helped you stay more informed, by pairing your morning coffee with the Daily Email, which finds the best stories from your Twitter stream, so you don’t have to. Wading through hundreds of tweets for the most important links is a lot of work - that’s why we do it for you. As before, the Daily Email remains free (though your coffee still costs $5). You can sign up here.

Over the last couple of months, the team has been heads down on the next generation of the product. Expect some exciting changes coming soon!

So if you haven’t already, download the iPad app, sign up for the Daily Email, and help us spread the word.

One last note: as always, we remain committed to ensuring that publishers receive full value in exchange for their content, and are working to develop agreements that are fair for our users and partners. For more information, please contact

Stay tuned…!

@myoung, @tolar, @jvanslem, @soniasaraiya, @jrlevine

*Two notes for existing users: First, if you’ve already downloaded, you still have to visit the app store and download the new version. It will not come through as an update. Second, if you’re currently paying a weekly or annual subscription, you will have to manually discontinue your subscription. For instructions, please visit our FAQ. We apologies for the inconvenience - this is a known issue and Apple is working to resolve it. Read Later

Today we’ve added a Read Later bookmarklet to This will let you bookmark stories to read later in the iPad app or on the website.

We think the “read later” experience is core to the news consumption experience. Many times you’ll see an article that you want to read later, but don’t have the time and want to come back to it. Skimming twitter on the train and find a few articles you want to read when you get in to the office? Have 10 tabs open in your browser at the end of the day and want to read them on the iPad when you get home?

There are plenty of apps in the “read later” space that offer this as stand alone functionality. Apple has even stepped in to offer “read later” functionality in Safari for iOS 5. We think “read later” should part of the experience where you do most of your news consumption, so we’ve built it in to Bookmarklet
Grab the read later bookmarklet (we’re calling it “”) from and install it in your browser. You can also install the bookmarklet in Safari on your iPad or iPhone. Once you have it installed, start bookmarking articles that you’d like to read later in the iPad app or on the website.

Your Read Later list in
We’ve had read later support in the iPad app from day 1. You can bookmark any story from the article page

or in the stream (swipe to reveal the bookmark option).

Then, to access your bookmarked stories, click on the bookmark icon

You can now access your read later list on at

Twitter Favorites
This is a feature that we love. You can add a story from any Twitter application to your read later list by using Twitter favorites. First, enable the “Import Twitter Favorites” setting in - you can do this from the settings page on our site or in the iPad application. After you’ve enable this, you can favorite any tweet (with a link!) and we’ll import the story in to your read later list.

We hope you enjoy!

P.S. We’re still fine tuning, so please send your feedback our way: needs a Senior iOS Engineer is looking for an experienced iOS engineer to join our team and help define the future of news. Applicants should have knowledge across both frontend and backend iOS frameworks and be prepared to own a project from start to finish, from networking and storage to view hierarchies and animation.

What we are looking for:

  • 1+ years of iOS experience
  • 4+ years of software and/or web development experience, especially mobile
  • Strong technical background required, design and user experience skills a plus
  • Experience with Core Data and Core Animation
  • Experience working with remote data via REST and JSON
  • At least one application in the App Store

Please send your resume, portfolio, and relevant links to launched last week as an iPad app and as an email service. Here is some background on why and how we built

Why 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 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 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 you can read your filtered stream and also those of people you follow on Twitter who use 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, is for you. Many people curate their Twitter experience to reflect their own unique set of interests. 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 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, seeks to offer the best possible reading experience. All content that is one click from the stream is presented within the 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. has a simple business model to offer this reading experience.

Last week we launched the iPad 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 developed? 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 will help lay the foundation of a new model. I hope it does and I hope we exceed their confidence in us.

And for more information about the product see

[Originally posted by John Borthwick:]