News360 news reader app massively improved, business model not so much

A new front-end on top of a strong news-scanning algorithm makes all the difference.

News360's new iPad app has an unconventional main story display, but it's fast, intuitive, and rewarding to use. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Last August I covered the news-reading iPad app, News360. I liked the tech, but after I reviewed it, I never used it again. That was as I predicted. It just didn't grab me.

The new one does, though. It shows how much difference a good, clever interface can make for a product.

As before, News360 pores through your declared interests as well as what you post for others to see on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, and what you save for yourself on Evernote. From this analysis it comes up with a bunch of channels and topics within the channels to watch for. It then populates your feed with stories from sources that cover what you like.

The product's de-duplication feature is quite good: If there's a story that's being covered by multiple sources, on News360 you'll see it just once, with links to the several sources when you dive in.

The story view gives you the top of the story itself, a thumbnail, images, and links to other sources (click to enlarge). Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

The new browsing interface makes the app, finally, a good reader to prop up in front of you while you're eating your Cheerios in the morning. With gestures you can swipe through the categories and the news in each of them. Stories are presented in little squares that are actually the faces of virtual cubes that can be flipped -- one way to see a few sentences from the story, the other way to access share and save functions and to flag a story as "interesting," so the service will find more stories like it for you. It sounds hokey, but it actually works. The browsing interface is fast and intuitive, and tolerant of imprecise gestures.

When you dive into a story, you get more text from it, images related to it (sometimes from other sources), a list of other outlets covering it, and a snapshot of the Web page that hosts the story. This snapshot is also new to this new version of the app; it replaces the full-size image of the top portion of the screen. CEO Roman Karachinsky says readers now click through to stories three times as frequently as they did in the old app. So publishers should love it.

Using News360 with the new interface reminds me of using Flipboard, which I also like quite a bit. I use Flipboard for reading a few news sources directly and to see what my friends are commenting on. But now when I want a Techmeme-like view of all the news that I am more likely to care about, I go to News360.

There is an unhappy ending to this story, though. Since Karachinsky and I last talked, nearly a year ago, not much has happened on the business side with his company. I'm not clear on how he's going to make money, and apparently he isn't either. "We're focused on the product right now," he told me. "Our model is that we're waiting for everyone else to figure out a business model, and then we'll use it."

The company has raised $5 million in funding, plus a grant of $1.5 million from the Skolkovo Innovation Centre. Get this app while you can. It should be in Apple's App Store now.

 

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