Peter Kafka

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News.me, the iPad News Aggregator Blessed by Big Publishers, Gets Ready to Launch

News.me, Bit.ly’s social news iPad app, was supposed to launch by the end of 2010. But developers didn’t submit it for Apple’s approval until about a month ago.

Now it looks as if News.me is just about ready for public consumption. I’m basing that observation on a new Web site that spells out, in great detail, how the app is supposed to work, and which instructs users to head to iTunes to download the app.

As I’m typing this, News.me still isn’t available in the app store. So it’s possible that the new web page is simply a new web page. Perhaps it’s just an exercise in positive thinking–maybe this will force Apple into approving our app!

[UPDATE: "Our understanding is that News.me is launching tomorrow", says New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy; the Times is aware of News.me's plans because it helped develop the project in its early stages (see below). I've asked Bit.ly for comment but haven't heard back yet.]

At a minimum, though, we can learn a lot about what Bit.ly has planned when News.me does launch.

The basics:

  • News.me will cost $0.99 a week, or $34.99 a year. It will be available as an iPad app, using Apple’s subscription service, or as an e-mail newsletter.
  • News.me will provide users with curated Twitter streams that highlight “the most popular or interesting news stories” that appear in their own Twitter feeds, and from the feeds of other Twitter users they select. The notion is that users can “read over the shoulder” of people they find interesting.
  • Bit.ly does the curating, using the data it culls as it shortens billions of shared links on the Web. Since News.me relies on Bit.ly data, it has a natural bias toward publishers that use the service.
  • News.me lets users read those stories in a “streamlined reading view,” which will be familiar to anyone who has used apps like Instapaper: easy-to-read black text on a white background–without the ads users see when they read the same stuff on a publisher’s Web page.
  • News.me will share some of its revenue with publishers who license their content to the service. But publishers who don’t have News.me deals but do appear on the Web will still see their stuff show up on the service. It just won’t look as nice, and they won’t get paid. And they won’t get the chance to run “additional promotion for publisher products that might be of special interest to News.me users (such as iPad applications).”

You can get a pretty good sense of how the app works by reading TechCrunch’s “exclusive” from February. Or you could just ask many of the people whose work often appears on Techmeme. A whole lot of writers and bloggers–including me–have had a chance to play with News.me for a while.

When News.me finally does go live, potential users will have to debate whether they want to pay a fee to read stuff they can get for free on the Web.

But to me, the most interesting thing about News.me is that it’s an aggregator blessed by some publishers that haven’t always been hospitable to aggregators.

There’s the New York Times, for starters, which handed over the beginnings of the service to Bit.ly in exchange for cash and equity. And the Associated Press, which often butts heads with the Web, has signed on, too.

So have Forbes, and AOL and many of its sub-brands, and a good chunk of the blogosphere–Gawker Media, Business Insider, Gigaom, Mashable, VentureBeat, etc. (I believe–but haven’t confirmed–that neither All Things Digital nor News Corp., which owns the site, have a deal with News.me.)

The Times and the Associated Press also work with Ongo, another aggregation subscription service. But Ongo only uses content from publishers it has deals with.

News.me, though, charges money for a service built using other people’s work–even if those people haven’t signed on.

Which is what the Times has complained about in the past–like last summer, when it forced Apple to pull the Pulse newsreader out of its app store. The AP has engaged in similar fist-shaking aimed at Google and the Internet at large.

Here’s News.me’s defense of its model:

Because News.me generally provides a small subset of a publisher’s content, filtered by user actions and News.me algorithms, it is not a substitute for publishers’ own web sites or iPad applications. And, since it exposes users to content they likely wouldn’t otherwise see, it can broaden the audience and, through related-content links, drive new unique users to publisher web sites.

Which is reasonable enough. Everything on the Web gets shared and sampled; if you’re a publisher trying to build or keep an audience, trying to prevent that is counterproductive.

And News.me’s curated browsing conceit–there’s no search function, and you can’t subscribe to a publication-specific feed–makes it worthless for anyone trying to use it to game publishers. This won’t work as a permanent ad-blocker, or a paywall-jumping aid.

I still won’t be surprised to see some publishers who haven’t signed on rattling their sabers when News.me launches–just like the Times and the AP have in the past. Glad to see they’ve come around.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work