App for That

Ben Huh’s News Startup Circa Aims to Change the Way Users Consume Mobile News

I can haz news?
circa story title Ben Huhs News Startup Circa Aims to Change the Way Users Consume Mobile News

(Photo: Circa blog)

In recent months, LOLcat emperor and  Bravo TV star Ben Huh has systematically leaked handfuls of details about his news startup, Circa, to the press. Back in April, Circa raised $750,000 from a slew of investors (many of whom were named David). In May, Nieman Lab caught up with Mr. Huh at ROFLCON, where he provided buzzword-laden answers and metaphors involving newspapers and teenagers to their questions about the startup. But today, Mr. Huh’s efforts have finally solidified into a cohesive company: Circa is an iPhone app that wants to change the way readers consume news.

Circa isn’t just a news aggregator. It employs teams of editors who curate and synthesize news stories into digestible bites, optimized for reading on mobile devices. The point is to write stories that are designed exclusively for mobile, instead of repackaging stories released on other platforms and trying to fit them into a mobile setting.

According to the Circa blog:

Instead of articles, Circa presents news as a collection of details about a story: the facts, stats, quotes, pictures, maps, and more. These are the full stories, not summaries; summaries tend to compress stories and therefore lose details. Instead, each story on Circa has the same details you’d find in traditional articles, but broken down into individual chunks of information that are much easier to consume. It’s the facts, without the fluff.

The details, or points, are presented in an interface that works a little like the flash cards like we used in school to learn and retain new information. Flash cards improve  comprehension, retention, as well as speed of learning. Each point within a Circa story is presented on its own “card,” so it’s easy to swipe through and read a whole story in less than a minute.

Unlike a leisurely tablet reading experience where beautifully templated longform stories are embraced and pored over, reading on a mobile device is all about the quick and dirty. Circa aims to provide those digestible factoids for users to quickly absorb on-the-go. (It kind of reminds us of The Skimm, but not in a newsletter format.) Users can also follow stories and topics, and the Circa app will alert them when there are any updates.

“Once you start to think of news as happening in these ‘atomic units,’ rather than as things that need to be wrapped up and shipped in an article, you can start to do different and unique things such as let people ‘follow’ a story, provide different context based on what a reader has consumed before, bridge from one point to a story that provides background, and so on,” Circa’s editor in chief, David Cohn, told GigaOm.

Because the team of journalists tasked with writing the content for Circa is basically synthesizing other publications’ reporting into a simple news for dummies flashcard, there’s bound to be some grumbling about sourcing. Circa argues that proper sourcing is close to its heart, however. “We know that truth and trust are paramount in news, and that’s why we work hard to provide the source to every single point that we write within a story,” reads the blog post.

No word yet on how adorable cat pictures will factor into the Circa newsgathering process.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com

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