Several young companies are looking at the way we consume information and news, throwing what exists out of the window and demanding a radically different experience. The sites and apps below cover fiction, non-fiction and news. Do you use any of them already? What do you think of them?
1. Quartz: a business news site owned by Atlantic Media. The idea behind it was to “devise how the Economist would look like if it had been born in 2012”, says their co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, Kevin J. Delaney. Articles on Quartz have unusual story angles, witty writing and huge photos, all provided on the infinite scrolling landing page. Unlike the majority of older publications, here the writers themselves choose the photos, write the headlines, and provide links in the body of the text, ready for the editor. This seems like a very sensible approach, and apparently it works well too, pulling in five million unique visitors per month despite only launching last year. Rather than having a strict, defined roster of topics, Quartz organises its news around changing ‘obsessions’, for example explosive growth, China’s transition, and the mobile web. They also place a lot of value on transparency – when content is sponsored, they tell you. They don’t accept gifts from PRs, and they disclose an awful lot so they don’t mislead readers, as seen on their ethics page. They also have geeky credentials: instead of building separate apps for iPhones, iPads, Android and so on, they simply built an HTML5 website which fits any size screen.
2. Pandodaily: a news site covering all the action in Silicon Valley as it happens. Their main page contains a ticker of news from other sites – the way they see it, if they weren’t the first to get the news story, then they won’t rewrite it for the sake of it. So instead, they aim to be first! Besides, there are so many startups in the world (of which apparently 90% fail), covering every story with one team of writers is just unrealistic. Pandodaily was started in 2012 by former TechCrunch senior editor Sarah Lacy, who became disillusioned with TC’s profit chasing after it was acquired by AOL in 2010, and she says of her team “As a writer, I’m creating the ultimate club of which I’d want to be a member”. Contributors to the site include Mike Arrington, who started TechCrunch back in 2005, and Paul Carr, who is mentioned further down in this post under NSFWCORP.
3. Circa: an app for accessing news on the go, Circa gives you the news in snack-size manageable chunks, with a Google map of where the news is taking place, short hard facts and one or two quotations from key people. It launched around a year ago and has been getting a lot of positive press, though some publications are nervous that unlike news aggregators, Circa does less to direct traffic to news sites with the full story. Two very helpful functions are the subscription function, so you can get push notifications when there’s developments in a news story you want to follow, and the greying out of stories you’ve already read. Personally I’m not a fan of the swipe scrolling style in the app, but you can change that very easily in the settings. Overall, it’s a rather beautiful app with a neat design, and you’ll find yourself using it more and more.
4. Readmill: an ebook reader app that makes reading on a device more beautiful and more shareable. It’s finally also available on Android (rejoice!), and is a firm favourite amongst fans of typography and design. You can save highlighted sections of text, comment on them, and also follow other readers if you like their taste in books. For those who prefer to keep their reading time private and separate from the world around them (like myself), Readmill still has plenty to keep you interested. It gives you stats on how quickly you read, can sync your books and your progress across devices and has a black background nighttime reading option. If you’re a fiction lover, you should take a look at their blog for some daily inspiration, and check the app regularly for free ebooks.
5. Blinkist: an iOS and web app from a German startup that gives you concise summaries of non-fiction books, in a series of 2 minute ‘blinks’. It’s a great app for absorbing knowledge on the go, you get unlimited access to their books for the first month, after that there’s a subscription model. It’s helpful if you’ve heard people talking about a book, bought it months ago to see what the fuss is about, and haven’t had time since then to read it. The Blinkist app is not intended to replace the full version of books (many readers will feel inspired to read the whole thing) but to provide bite-sized learning. You can read my TechCrunch article about it here.
NB. I came up with a very similar business idea when I was a teenager (but in print form) and never tried to make it happen. Kicking myself now!
Honourable mention goes to:
NSFWCORP: describing itself as “The Future of Journalism (With Jokes)”, this monthly print publication is headed up by another former TechCrunch journalist, current Pandodaily contributor and outspoken character Paul Carr. You need to be a subscriber to access the content online, and unlike other publications it doesn’t operate on a freemium model. A quotation from Ryan Lizza from The New Yorker on the NSFWCORP landing page echoes my own sentiments: “I don’t really know what NSFWCORP is”.
Have you come across other noteworthy sites or apps? Where do you access the news?