Jason Calacanis aims to clean up mobile news with Inside.com

The serial entrepreneur thinks sites like BuzzFeed and Business Insider are polluting smartphones, and he wants to curate only the "best" journalism in a new app.

Dan Farber
5 min read
Inside will offer a 1,000 updates per day on thousands of topics curated by dozens of editors. Inside screenshot

Jason Calacanis wants to clean up mobile news. "We think one of the big problems today on mobile devices is that there is a small amount of real estate, and it is abused by BuzzFeed, Business Insider, and others with deceptive headlines and link-baiting," he said.

His solution is Inside.com, an news app for mobile users that curates what he calls the "best journalism" on thousands of topics in near real-time. "When you take out all the noise, you are left with great journalism," he said. "It's like Whole Foods or a good farmer's market where everything is curated and healthy."

Calacanis views Inside as the arbiter of good journalism, rewarding the original source of stories with links back to their sites. "We are finding every great journalistic story, featuring it and driving traffic to it. There is no driving to re-blogged content or intercepting the original source, or slide shows, listicles or spammy, dishonest link-baiting headlines," he said.

Jason Calacanis Dan Farber/CNET

Inside's content updates, or summaries, come from 100 to 150 sources. "We will take content from any place of quality and try to find the person who broke the story," Calacanis said. That doesn't mean Inside is banning sites like Business Insider when it comes up with a unique news story, but it will rely mostly on writing updates from a white list of sources that break stories and deliver more original content, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Variety, and Reuters.

Henry Blodget, the founder and editor-in-chief of Business Insider, was diplomatic in responding via e-mail to CNET about Calacanis' put-down of his publication.

"Jason says he was referring to that practice generally -- and I understand his frustration. Readers hate feeling duped by headlines, and they only share stories they love. So we try very hard to produce stories our readers love. And, happily, our readers do love our stories. We now have a larger readership than the Wall Street Journal, and about half of our readers are mobile. Jason's a great entrepreneur and journalist. In fact, the publication he started in the 1990s, Silicon Alley Reporter, was one of the original inspirations for Business Insider. So I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he does with Inside.com."

Inside updates popular interest stories about cats and the more dense, political stories about farm bills. Inside screenshot

While Inside aspires to identify and promote quality journalism, it apparently doesn't shy away from featuring the kinds of stories that might be considered link-bait, or as "popular interest" stories. For example, this headline from thelocal.it: "Man ate 'adopted' cats for 'dinner with friends.'"

Inside isn't alone in trying to curate news for mobile users. Services such as Twitter, Flipboard, Circa, Prismatic, Yahoo News Digest, and Feedly are tackling the problem. "Nobody has mass adoption and nobody got the format right," Calacanis claimed.

Inside's format is what Calacanis calls an "atomic unit," a 300-character update (a summary about two tweets in length) with a headline and 7 to 10 facts. Inside plans to post from 700 to 100 updates per day and to offer well over 10,000 topics by the end of the year. Inside's editors highlight what they believe are the top 25 stories every 24 hours, and users can follow topics in their personal feeds.

"It's becoming harder for consumers to know where to go for news. We want to be the guide to the good stuff," said Gabriel Snyder, Inside's chief content officer. Snyder, who previously was an editor at Gawker, The Atlantic Wire, and Newsweek Digital, expects Inside to do well at covering live events, with users following the topics and getting a continuous stream of updates.

Inside is closest to Circa's app in its attempt to curate and atomize news for mobile users. Circa offers similar updates, cites multiple sources with links and, unlike Inside, offers alerts when new updates are posted for ongoing stories.

Circa doesn't disclose the number of new stories posted daily, but writes hundreds of updates per day with an editorial staff of 11 people, CEO Matt Galligan said in an email. "It's important to point out that we're not going out for sheer quantity and have a focus on covering the most important news of the day, researching it thoroughly, fact checking it, and producing the highest quality news that we can," he said. "The kind of consumer that's seeking an editorialized understanding of the day's news is different than that of a consumer seeking just a stream of information." (Calacanis is an investor in Circa. He said that Inside could link to Circa, although it's not clear why since, like Inside, Circa curates the news.)

Inside allows users to customize their feed via thumb up and down icons. A thumb up click tells the app to show more of the updates in that topic, and a thumb down will remove topics from their feeds. Using a sliding card deck feature, users can swipe to the left to access more updates related to a specific topic. Inside currently lacks the capability to search topics or updates, but plans to add the feature in the coming weeks.

Calacanis said Inside will generate revenue via native advertising. "The atomic unit of the content update will be a perfect advertising vehicle. If you are going through the NHL (National Hockey League) slide deck, you will see an advertisement written in our format, with an image, similar to Twitter ads." However, Calacanis said the company has enough cash to run for a few years without revenue. "We don't plan on native ads for a year or two," he said.

Inside is available on iOS, BlackBerry, and the Web. An Android app is expected later this year. For readers wondering why BlackBerry is supported ahead of Android or Windows, BlackBerry is an investor in Inside, along with Sequoia Capital, Elon Musk, Newscorp, CBS (the parent company of CNET), Mark Cuban, Ted Leonsis, Acton Capital Partners, Fred Wilson, Mark Pincus and Matt Coffin. The funding for Inside originated with Mahalo.com, a human search engine and then how-to site started by Calacanis in 2007 that is being slowly retired.

This story has been updated to add additional information on Circa and to correct the number of Circa stories and updates per day.