News is the #2 reason people use social networks, according to GlobalWebIndex. So, it’s hard to understand why news isn’t a core proposition for platforms like Facebook.
We wondered if news should be THE driver of a social platform rather than a sideshow. So, we built something that does that.
It’s called News With Friends.
In our research on the News Ecosystem we found that people may be frustrated with news media for a range of reasons, but that doesn’t stop them from seeking it out. Interest in news is very high. They’re just starting to look in new places for it.
We also found people want to share it and talk about it with their friends in private spaces. Public sharing may have lost its appeal.
This project actually started 2 years ago. The very first thing Graham made when we founded this company was a simple news aggregator for our own internal use. We wanted to see the data flowing through our systems before doing the deeper analysis that we intended to offer to publishers.
We considered making that tool into a consumer product, but at the time Facebook’s dominance of news distribution seemed insurmountable.
That has changed now. News started declining on Facebook last summer, and then in January Facebook deprioritized news on the platform.
A big gap suddenly opened up. And we thought this was a great time to put a better type of news experience out there for people.
We have the perfect data for it from Kaleida. We track publishers from across the spectrum, far left to far right and compare them. Seeing multiple perspectives of the same story together is very compelling. It helps you see a broader picture and exposes you to views you’d never get otherwise.
We had to think carefully about story selection. How do you decide what to show first?
The ultimate algorithm for surfacing the news is out there every day in the collective brains of professional editors, the people who spend their days deciding what stories people should know about. Rather than reinforce filter bubbles through personalized news we decided to look at the editorial decisions made in newsrooms across the world as to what they consider important.
There’s more clever stuff happening behind the scenes around clustering stories into “topics” and identifying what stories are about. That makes it possible for us to put context around any given article, comparing it to similar articles from other publishers and placing it in a timeline amongst other recent stories about the same thing.
The app was built with React Native and gets the data from Elasticsearch via GraphQL.
We’ll write up some more notes on the stack, as well. The technology available to developers today is truly remarkable. There is no way News With Friends could have been built by 3 people in 3 months just a few years ago.
There’s much more we want to do, but we needed more people using it so we could see what works and what doesn’t. It’s live in the App Store, and the Android version will be coming soon.
Try it out. Add some friends who care about what’s going on in the world. And let us know what you think.