It was a winter day in 2008 when I discovered tl;dr. At first, it seemed like a read-it-later client of sorts, or a disfigured emoticon. But no, it meant something much worse. This expression, which can be found throughout the comment sections of many blogs, meant that people had begun to undervalue reading. It meant that all the readers I thought I was getting were really just skimming the headline and moving on.
If you’ve been one of those too long — didn’t read people — a solution has recently been developed to help your daily rush. Download Circa News, a free new app from Circa 1605 Inc. I’ve been using it for almost a week now, and it has a lot of potential. But hey, this is a review, so meet me after the break for a deeper look at how this company is trying to revolutionize the way you read news.
It Starts with Good Design
As usual, nobody wants to use an app that’s poorly designed. Sometimes, iPhone users must default to an app like Amazon Mobile or IMDb to get the job done. There’s nothing wrong with the functionality of either apps, but they don’t have the most inspired design. In fact, any app that has a default iPhone layout scheme of menu buttons at the bottom with content on the top isn’t doing its job at setting itself apart from the competition.
Circa News has a modern look to it. There’s a minimal feel to everything about the app, and that’s a good thing. It aims to make sure you read news, not advertisements or other distractions. Circa’s not a Web browser, RSS reader or aggregate of all your favorite news sources. It’s not trying to be the next Flipboard; the layout says it all here. The designer took a basic approach with the app’s layout and even left out the landscape orientation.
From top to bottom, swipe to scroll, and font to quote, Circa’s design excels. Everything is easy to understand and user-friendly. The tutorial that pops up when you first open the app helps to explain everything nicely and makes sure you understand how to use it. This is something you don’t see in a lot of apps and it helps to ensure that every user knows the extent of the app they’re using.
How It Works
Before I move on to using the app, there’s one important thing you’ll need to know: how it works. It’s not a gathering app that takes paragraphs from certain sources and combines them to create one story. It’s also not a full publication that does its own reporting. Instead, there are editors behind the veil. They gather information and write one-paragraph points, so to speak, on the topic. There are usually six of these in each story — sometimes seven or eight — and they’re always short.
You end up reading a compilation of several important facts, explained in the fewest number of words possible without destroying details. During your reading, a tap of the i button in the top center of the screen will reveal the sources used for that particular point of the report. Scrolling to the next will show its source as well; just make sure you check the bottom of each point. Each source has the title of the original story and a link to it. Thankfully, Circa uses very credible sources such as the Wall Street Journal and local newspapers in close proximity to the story’s origin.
On occasion there will be a map at the top of a point. This indicates the area that the story is centered around. (It’s not like a dateline from the Associated Press, so don’t mistake it for such.) The editors want to make sure you understand what’s going on by using maps, photographs, and small paragraphs of text for you to digest.
Solid Writing, Sources and Use of Brevity
With news, design isn’t everything. One can have a spectacular appearance, yet terrible writing. Likewise, one can write superb content and wind up getting no readers due to the terrible font choice or bland blog theme. Whatever the case, a balance is always necessary. Circa News won’t disappoint here, especially since it offers good writing, credits sources and makes sure to stay to the point.
For longer paragraphs, a progress bar is displayed to tell you how far you are into the read. There are also orange stars that mark the most important points. These are usually placed at the beginning of the listing and can be one or two of the points.
Some Suggestions for Improvement
In all its greatness, Circa does fall short in some basic areas. Here’s a tidy list of things it can improve and add:
- Showing the byline with the press of the i button to give credit to the editors.
- Don’t leave out people outside the United States: add international news.
- Updates on local stories via push for news addicts.
- A Web version for people who prefer to read on their computers would be useful.
- Lastly, an iPad app would unify the experience.
It is Indeed “News, Reimagined”
To fully appreciate Circa News, you have to understand its purpose. The app isn’t meant to be a replacement for real news. Instead, it exists for businesspeople or readers who are always on the go, unable to simply sit down to read an article. There are times like these in everyone’s life, which means that Circa has a lot of homes. For a quick way to check the news, it’s great. For a way to keep up on the latest national events without watching television, it’s also good.
Circa News is aimed at everyone, but only a certain amount of users will accept it into their iPhone’s home screen. This is mainly because it appears to be untrustworthy, but there’s also the factor of the news not being international. At first, I assumed all the news was gathered from sources and simply quoted. Of course, the real way the editors do it is much better. Quotes here and there are a good thing to keep the story outsourced. I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day, the editors started composing original content in some areas of the United States.
It’s good to see that some people don’t like the way news is currently distributed. Every app has a niche, and this one is going to find its with the help of tl;dr people. Starting on a mobile platform was an especially wise decision since everyone pulls out their phones during the slow parts of the day. Circa News is going to keep you informed in a quick manner, that’s for sure.