Circa front page    Circa story page

A new iPhone application which publishes news stories which have been broken down into bite-size information chunks, launched this week, in a bid to "re-think the form of news".

The app, called Circa, adopts a mobile-first approach to its news delivery and as such its design and user experience is centred around the mobile device.

"So we are not a news organisation that is then taking content and putting it on the phone," founding editor David Cohn told Journalism.co.uk, a day after launch.

"We are a media entity that is aimed at being a phone news content provider."

Cohn, who was founder of crowd-funded news site Spot.us, said Circa has "re-thought journalism".

"We didn't want to take articles and squeeze them into a mobile phone, we actually wanted to re-think the form of news itself and how that can be re-thought because we're freed from the limits of either a desktop screen or a paper and thinking within the constraints of mobile."

Article v story

Each story is condensed down into what I call the atomic units of news: facts, quotes, statistics, events and images and we might add moreDavid Cohn, Circa
One example of this approach is in the way he defines the content itself, they pieces of content are "stories, they are not articles".

"News stories evolve over time. Each story is condensed down into what I call the atomic units of news: facts, quotes, statistics, events and images and we might add more.

"The idea is we really break down the news into just exactly what is new and factual to the best of knowledge."

And one feature of the app is the ability to follow a story as it develops. Users who are logged in can click on a '+' sign to add a story to their collection to follow, and if they choose so, can be alerted through push notifications when updates are published.

The emphasis is on providing the reader with the latest update to a story, whether they are a new reader or it is a story they have been following. The app can monitor the 'units' of a story which a reader has already read, and amend future versions accordingly.

"People are going to be reading articles every day", on subjects such as the US election, Cohn explained, "but some of those articles repeat information that they've already read".

"Because we can keep track of what snippets you have or haven't read, we have a better sense of how informed of a reader you are.

"... So someone that's brand new to a story will be presented with different points in a different order, to somebody who is returning to a story where they already have a certain amount of background. We can sort of drop that to the bottom because it's all back-story to them, they just want what is the newest quote or the newest fact or the newest image."

Content production

Cohn explains that the app features original content, in that it is all written by the Circa team, but "it is not original reporting".

"We don't have people on the campaign trail, we don't have people in Libya, so we are doing original content and there is a lot of original research".

Where information is sourced from elsewhere, the app offers the ability for users to switch on source footnotes which are then attached to the relevant section of a story, and link out to the source.

Circa info button 3    Circa info button 2

By using the 'info button' the user "can get a sense of where we're getting our information so you can trust what we're doing", Cohn explained.

Currently the app features two content categories, top stories and election 2012. Cohn said that at the moment Circa is "covering many different topics, but they're not necessarily in different categories".

"We kind of want to see what people respond to, what people request. We have received a lot of feedback on wanting more news from Canada and news from the UK and I wouldn't say with under 24 hours after launch what sections we're going to do next but we are going to add more to that."

He added that while this may include "traditional" beats, such as business, politics and technology, "I think we also want to play with the idea of zeitgeist sections".

"You start to see natural clusters of stories, and in fact the election is a good example of that," he said. For example after the US election stories within that category could fall within a politics category instead, "but they can also just stay for themselves ... this snapshot of all the things that are related to that election which is not necessarily a beat".

Sharing the news snippets

The app enables social sharing of an entire story, or instead users can share specific points within it. While it is still early days for the app, Cohn said from his observations so far people seem to prefer to share parts of stories. He added that this also "focuses the conversation".

"When someone is responding to a specific fact or a specific quote, the conversation is much more focused and I think actually if we can find a way to harness that conversation it's more powerful than just putting comments at the bottom of the story where all you can do is comment about the entire story."

As for the business model for the free app Cohn said "there are a lot of business model or revenue ideas that we've talked about", but for now the focus is on the product itself.

"We're really lucky in that I think the people that invested and all the people on the team, we're looking at this as a long-term, larger organisation that we want to grow and so right now my focus, and the focus of the entire team, is just on creating the best reader experience, news experience that we can."

See a video on the app by Circa below:

 

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