Among Apple's top 10 app picks for 2016 is Quartz's news app, launched in February for iOS with the aim to bring news to its users in a format native to mobile devices: messaging.
Released before the Facebook Messenger bot platform, which enables news organsiations to create chat bots and interact with their readers in a more conversational way, the Quartz app was designed to combine two key features of the mobile platform – the power of push notifications, and the time people spend texting.
"We wanted something that's true to people's experience of how they actually use their mobile phones and what we struck upon was the idea that messaging is something that's super native to mobile," Adam Pasick, push news editor at Quartz, told Journalism.co.uk.
The app also launched on Android this month, and Pasick explained the conversational tone is one of the factors that determined its success.
While small, the team that works on the app is international, with Quartz staff from New York, London, Hong Kong and other locations contributing to the selection of the stories, as well as the writing and editing process.
The team's Slack conversations about the news not only determine which stories make it into the app, but also inspire and sometimes become the app's content.
"What people really seem to like about the app is the voice, the tone that we're using to tell the news to people.
"And that includes using the same conversational conventions, the GIFs and emojis that people use when they're talking to each other.
"That turned out to be one of our big selling points. Not a lot of people were telling the news in that kind of way before so that's certainly something that we're really happy to see succeed," he said.
All the copy featured in the app is written from scratch, including the text referencing articles published elsewhere by Quartz. The effort of "feeding the beast", of curating and writing the text in a way that keeps to the app's established voice, has proven somewhat challenging for the team.
But the Quartz app is not aiming to be a comprehensive news source, as readers are able to get that experience on different websites, including Quartz's own.
Instead, it gives users a "snack-sized portion" of news, and the app's format has proven not to be for everyone. Some instantly take to the app's user experience, said Pasick, while others prefer to be able to choose the articles they read themselves. "There's room for both," he added.
After the Android launch, the team has its sights set on a second version of the app, aiming to include personalisation, so readers are served more stories they are likely to be interested in, as well as more geographical awareness.
Pasick said one possible avenue for expansion would be to include geographically personalised content in the app for audiences in China and India, who are increasingly active on mobile.
But more news organisations are now using chat bots to deliver the news to audiences across platforms, so what does that spell for the Quartz app's distinctive format?
"When Facebook Messenger first came out, is was pretty limited in the interaction that you could have, and they've done more and more over time, creating tools that makes it easier to have a similar user experience as to what we have in our native app," said Pasick.
Quartz is currently exploring the possibility of taking the conversational experience within the app to different platforms, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Gchat and Hangout, to reach new audiences.
"If we can find a way to create a good experience that lives within that platform, it's really just a no brainer for us to do that."
Pasick and his team have also been thinking about ways to better promote the Quartz app in the coming months. Being featured by Apple in its top 10 has helped Quartz reach new users in the last few weeks, but exposure remains a challenge.
"Showing people what we're doing is in some ways our biggest challenge," he said.
Free daily newsletter
- The on-demand audio revolution gathers pace
- Prioritising the reading experience at The Times: Why the paywall prompts radical thinking inside the newsroom
- Shifting focus from offers to promoting its journalism, The New York Times continues to build its subscriber base
- Study: How local news organisations are managing digital change
- Report: Best practices for launching digital editions from eight European publishers