Betaworks-Backed News.me Puts a More Social Spin on News Medium
The ever-increasing use of social media to share stories can sometimes overwhelm users, but a New York-based startup has created a platform to curb such information overload. News.me, wholly funded by investor and business accelerator Betaworks, and born from a prototype created at The New York Times, curates news articles to help readers focus on and discuss relevant content.
News.me is available via daily e-mails, and in March the startup released a mobile app version for Apple iPhone and iPad users. The platform gathers news stories posted in each user’s respective Twitter and Facebook feeds, combing through the rampant, sometimes irrelevant personal updates. News.me, which is free to download and use, lets users engage in conversations about the stories within their personal social spheres using quick, preset responses or their own comments.
Jake Levine, general manager for News.me, says there can be a disconnect between the discovery of news on the Web and conversations on social networks. A reader who comments on a story directly on a news website, for example, may get lost in the tide of remarks from others. Levine says news lends itself to social interaction, such as wanting to be informed and deciding on which candidates to vote for. “Twitter and Facebook are places where discovery is social,” he says. News.me lets users join discussions through their social networks, keeping the chatter centered among their friends interested in the topics.
Mediums such as Twitter, however, can lead to a glut of chatter as users receive suggestions to follow more and more people. With the population of social feeds growing, occasionally such connections need to be trimmed down. “You have to put in a lot of work, build your network, and prune it over time,” Levine says. Furthermore, he says while Twitter can help call attention to content, that platform was not specifically tailored for discovering news.
Levine says he and the rest of News.me’s team of six developed the company’s platform harnessing their experiences as power users of Twitter trying to sort through the social morass. Tools such as Tweetdeck let users organize who they follow in lists, but Levine says News.me does not try to be all things to all users as some other mediums attempt to do. His platform treats news as social objects much the way photos on Instagram become topics for conversation.
News.me, he says, aims for more personal conversations about news stories. “You’ll never have a network on Twitter or Facebook that is designed from the ground up for the conversation around news,” Levine says. Though these social networks are dabbling with groups and filters to help organize connections and consume information, he believes users would instead prefer new platforms entirely focused on the discussion of news.
Levine says News.me takes a different approach to making news more social compared with rivals in this segment such as Flipboard and Pulse, which both offer mobile reading apps for news and magazines. Such rivals, he says, generate revenue on traditional advertising and news consumption models primarily based on topical categories. He believes that model will become less relevant in the future as readers discover news increasingly through social recommendations. News.me is still searching for a business model to monetize the platform, Levine says.
Spun out last August from bitly, News.me has its roots in the news industry. Michael Young, News.me’s chief technology officer, led the team that built the prototype in The New York Times‘s research and development lab. The prototype was acquired and incubated within bitly, another Betaworks-backed company, in late 2010. Levine joined News.me during the incubation at bitly. He was previously entrepreneur in residence at Betaworks, strategic development analyst at the TheLadders.com, and was in investment banking.
Though News.me has no immediate plans to develop an Android version of its app, Levine says a Web-based platform is in the works. He says the platform will likely evolve to incorporate both computer-driven algorithms and living curators to recommend news stories to users. Even with its pedigree, Levine says News.me does face a difficult challenge disrupting the traditional models for consuming news. However he says the backing from Betaworks gives this startup the leeway to explore this approach to connect readers with news they want to see. “It’s going to be really hard, to be honest,” he says. “We’re making a long-term bet.”