iPad app could be the Pandora for news
The iPad has been publicized for its potential to rejuvenate print publications, but it's also paved the way for more personalized applications to consume news. One such app is the Apollo news app, which calls itself the “newspaper of the future” and “the world's first personalized mobile newspaper.”
Developed by Hawthorne Labs, the application allows users to receive content through specific topics or feeds they select. The algorithm then gleans what types of articles and sources a user likes and recommends new content based on the user's history and preferences (screen shot and video demo below). Apollo pays attention to the type of content within a story readers like, utilizing semantic search technology.
Evan Reas, founder and CEO of Hawthorne Labs, said a good analogy would be if a reader picked up a newspaper, spent a lot of time in one section, and the next day the newspaper offered more articles from that section.
Is this the Pandora for news the industry has been waiting for? Reas sees the connection between his app and the music service. “That wasn’t really our main goal, but I think it is kind of fitting,” he said.
The obvious difference is that Pandora is based completely on generating recommendations (rather than serving as a playlist), while the Apollo app allows the reader to control news feeds and receive recommendations.
“You can put in your own feed and what we’ll do is find similarly related articles and show those on top of the regular feed,” Reas said. The idea is simple: “looking at what people like and helping them to discover new things that they like.”
The app allows for RSS feeds, but Reas said they are trying to move away from that in hopes that readers will use keywords or topics. Right now the app offers 27 topics, but the company plans to add more.
The Apollo app is $4.99 and launched July 16. While Reas wouldn't disclose the number of downloads, he said they have seen a good response so far. The second version, which will be out in a couple weeks, will incorporate more personalization and social features, he said.
What does it mean for publishers?
Aggregators like Apollo could represent the future norm for news consumption. Reas said it's unlikely that people are going to download 40 different news apps and check every one of them, opening the door for apps that deliver their favorite topics and sources in one place.
Apollo offers snippets of content that lead readers back to a publication's website, which could be beneficial for the publisher. “For the traditional sources that people already know about, we wanted to give them a better way to reach future audiences,” Reas said.
The app could also be a great way for smaller publishers, such as blogs and local outlets, to be discovered by new audiences, he said, noting that some smaller publishers won't even have their own apps.
The jury is still out about whether personalized news apps such as Apollo will be helpful to publishers. The much-hyped Flipboard has been scrutinized for possible copyright violation.
Flipboard, which is based down the street from the Apollo developers in Palo Alto, provides a different service than Apollo, Reas said. Flipboard's developers have said that their app is for a leisurely purpose ― the kind of news you peruse on the couch. The Apollo is more focused on giving topics a reader needs quickly. “I use both of them for very different cases,” Reas said.
Reas anticipates there will be a lot more different applications for different ways of consuming content. He hopes to add more features to Apollo, such as allowing the ability to follow social news feeds in which to keep up with news from Twitter and Facebook.
“The biggest things we’re thinking about is 'how can we bring together all the different pieces of information that people want and people consider as news?,'” he said.