April 22, 2011
Earlier today, we highlighted the arrival of the News.me iPad app in the App Store. Having used it for a while, we are ready to give our initial take on the social news service. Created by Betaworks and The New York Times Company, News.me is, at its core, a news feed generator. However, where it gets these stories is what makes the app interesting. According to the Times, stories generated are those "being read and discussed on Twitter among friends, noted technologists and early-adopters from the Web.” After logging into the app, you are asked to choose from the app’s list of “Featured Users.” These include noted Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, Milk Co-founder Kevin Rose, and Felix Salmon, a finance blogger for Reuters, among others. In total, there are nearly 35 of these users, each which may be added to your News.me feed. Once you select your users (the first are automatically selected for you), the app places each of their Twitter icons in a row at the top of the screen. Also included is your own Twitter icon. A click on an icon presents a bio of the user, which includes their Twitter description. In addition, this cryptic message is shown: “The best of what @username is reading on twitter generated,” plus the date and time the list was updated. Below this are links to at least 30 articles, apparently tied to this user in some way. A click on the article's title shows you the complete story within the app. Stores may be shared on Facebook or Twitter, emailed, saved to Instapaper, or opened in Safari. According to the Times, these stories are generated using “artificial intelligence.” In other words, in a way they aren’t telling. Says John Borthwick, chief executive officer at Betaworks:
“Instead of only seeing what you’re Tweeting, I get to see what you’re reading. We’re taking the social stream and flipping it on its head.”But, this isn’t correct. For example, I haven’t read one of the 35 articles attributed to my Twitter feed. Not one. However, my followers have or at least posted links to the articles. Therefore, in actuality, what News.me does is scans a user’s Twitter feed and selects articles posted and/or discussed by their followers. While the stories offered are both interesting and timely (the feeds are refreshed regularly), they are readily available online or within other apps too. Unfortunately, unlike with other apps, News.me is charging its customers to see these articles in this format. The app is subscription-based, costing $.99 per week or $34.99 for a yearly subscription. Another concern is the sources, from which these articles are generated. For one, readers cannot manually add additional Twitter feeds. The 35 “featured users” as well as your own Twitter feed are the only available options. According to the News.me FAQ page, while the app provides “access to just about any web site, the product provides the best reading experience with content from publishers who have licensed News.me to reformat their content for the iPad.” Furthermore, it states:
“News.me pays those publishers for the use of their content, and it recoups those payments through the subscription fee. “Again, this doesn’t seem right. For example, earlier today, one of my AppAdvice articles was featured on my Twitter feed, and hence, made it to my News.me feed. However, AppAdvice did not authorize News.me to do so, nor did I, as the writer, and the article was included and reformatted anyway. While News.me and the folks behind it, have every right to attempt to charge for media available for free elsewhere, the jury is still out on whether this will be successful. Plus, where is my payment? You may download the free News.me app in the App Store. It costs $.99 per week or $34.99 for a yearly subscription. What do you think? Please leave your comments below.