Review: Yahoo News Digest7th Jan, 2014
Yahoo! looks to the newspaper experience to fix the overwhelming nature of online news.
Announced today at CES, Yahoo News Digest is a news app redesigned with a new line of thinking from an aging tech giant hell-bent on reinventing itself as an innovative company. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Myer has done an astounding job at getting the company's goals in line and modernizing its products across the board. From redesigns of Yahoo! Mail, both on the web and in app form, to the quite good Yahoo! Weather app, News Digest continues an excellent, design-focused trend from the 1990's behemoth.
In March of last year, Yahoo! acquired news-summarizing service Summly for a large sum of money. Immediately, the product closed down and the core technology was soon integrated into Yahoo!'s premier app (simply called Yahoo!). Yahoo! News Digest has been the project of Summly founder Nick D'Aloisio for the past year and it's a news app that pays homage to our favorite dying news source: the newspaper.
A design goal for News Digest was not to deliver personalized results as many other apps aim to do, but rather a definitive set of news stories you should know about. In short: literally everyone who uses the app receives the same set of news stories.
News Digest aims to make being "in the know" about the world easier by slowing the information overload we experience with the explosion of news sources the Internet has provided. It generates a "digest" of 9 top news stories algorithmically determined twice a day. It delivers one to you at 8am (EST) and one at 6pm (EST).
Each story is composed of what Yahoo! is calling "atoms". Bits and pieces of information from a wide range of sources relating to the story. It will combine photos, infographics, videos, text, tweets and more to give you as much information in as little time as it possibly can. These "atoms" will vary depending on the story's topic. Stories are broken down into typical news categories such as "world", "politics", "science", "entertainment", etc.
The app tracks which stories you've read and which you haven't. Once you've read all 9, the app says so at the bottom of the digest telling you, "done". This is more or less meant to dismiss you from using the app further. One of the biggest problems news readers face online is that the flow of information doesn't stop. It is entirely possible to read perpetually on the Internet. Contrast this experience to that of a newspaper, which is purposefully designed to leave its readers with a sense of completion. With News Digest, Yahoo! is hoping to give its users that same sense of completion.
So, how well does it deliver? The digest arrives on time as you would expect and it includes news stories across the major categories. The digest starts with one large photo for the top story and lists out the headlines from there. Each story shows the category (color coded), the headline, and shows small icons indicating the "atoms" the story is composed of. The story begins with a text summary, including important quotes from noted sources, stock information (if relevant), a video, a link to long form content, contextual information from Wikipedia and more. This will vary story to story, but the idea is that information is pulled from a wide range of sources. The experience is pretty nice and the information it offers is reasonably informative considering how summarized it is. You can also swipe left or right to navigate between sources, a welcome means of navigating.
Ultimately, the app is highly attractive, speedy and simple. Its success, however, relies on being able to deliver on that "sense of completion". For News Digest to actually be useful, users will need to feel thoroughly informed. And while it is possible to go beyond the main digest and find additional stories at the end, they're definitely treated as second-class citizens. If the digest doesn't deliver enough news to leave a user feeling satisfied and informed, Yahoo! News Digest just becomes yet another news source, which doesn't solve the problem it intends to.
Part of this success may require Yahoo! to expand customization options. This will likely not be in the form of selecting topics, but volume. By default, the app delivers the top 9 stories, but what if that leaves me feeling short changed? What if I feel the top 12 stories are a better fit for me? That's not at all an option at the moment, but it's not hard to imagine it becoming one. An alternative may be allowing users to turn off a few "atoms". If I'm not a Twitter user, the odds of me caring about tweets is much lower than someone who is a Twitter user. Allowing me to turn them off would provide a more focused experience for me.
The app was just launched today and is currently only available in the US and only for iPhone, but Yahoo! may bring it to Android and tablet devices depending on the reaction it gets. The app is free and features no ads, though Yahoo! did indicate plans for advertisements at some point. For version 1.0, Yahoo! News Digest is an excellent app. But whether or not it fulfills its goal of being my primary news source like a newspaper of old, well, that's completely up in the air. It's difficult to tell if I'll have that "sense of completion" Yahoo! is going for after just one day of use. With only 9 news stories, though, that's a hard sell.
Yahoo! News Digest: 3/5 piles of poo (due to the uncertainty of its future).