Reducing the news experience makes it better

We just released a big update to News With Friends. We gave each story more impact. Your friends are easier to see. And we’ve stripped it way back so it’s super simple and enjoyable to use.

When you reduce everything like this it raises some questions about what you’re trying to do. You have to think hard about your editorial decisions and the essential user behaviours.

The first thing to notice is the way it feels. It’s a simple swipe list that will slide along automatically if you let it.

The news list is generated by weighting editorial choices made by the professionals. If all the news editors are promoting a story about an election result as their lead story on their web sites then News With Friends will make that topic the lead in the app here, too.

Below each story is a selection of similar articles from a range of news publishers representing different perspectives from across the political spectrum. We cluster stories using a similarity algorithm which, admittedly, throws in an odd choice now and again. It’s a feature not a bug 😉

The clusters are fascinating. Each one lets you compare and contrast different language used by different publishers to cover the same news event. We don’t prioritize or weight news brands. The stories in each cluster are ordered chronologically. That means you are likely to see coverage by publishers you don’t normally follow every time you open the app.

The other really unique thing about News With Friends is the “With Friends” part.

When your friends tap on a story in a particular topic you will see their avatar in the app. Their reading breadcrumbs create a list of stories that you can see at the end of the swipable news carousel. The last page shows “What your friends are reading.”

It seems pretty obvious that this is how a news app should work the moment you put it in your hand. It shows you the big stories. You swipe from one to the next, dive into them on occasion, and then come back.

It also feels right to see our friends here and what they are reading right now. We know our friends are reading news. Sharing that reading experience should just happen fluidly, automatically, as if we were in the same room with them.

That became a useful test for us while developing these features. Does it feel natural? Is it doing what you would expect it to do? Is it so clear that we don’t have to explain it?

Making it simple is often harder than making it work.

The other benefit is that we seem to have less code to worry about. It’s weird to see your application getting smaller. That suggests, yes, we do in fact know what we’re trying to do.