Ben Huh, founder of the meme factory Cheezeburger Nation, and Matt Galligan, the man behind startups like Socialthing and SimpleGeo, have teamed up to launch Circa, a news app with a focus on the mobile experience. "A lot of publishers have been doing great things adapting their content for smartphones and tablets, and there are lots of cool aggregators for sorting through a ton of stories," said Galligan. "But we didn't feel there was a native mobile app built from the ground up with the goal of helping people consume news on the go."
"We can take a story and cut eighty percent of it."
Circa, which hit the app store today, has an interesting editorial approach. The company uses a mix of computer algorithms and human editors to choose what it thinks are the most important stories, then breaks them down bite-size chunks. A piece on SoftBank's deal to buy a controlling stake in Sprint, for example, get cut down into five flash cards. Each one contains an image, map or chart and short paragraph with a single salient point. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to have people scrolling through a huge block of text," says Galligan. "We are working to pare down the news to its essentials and present that in a format which works fluidly on a small touchscreen." Source links at the bottom direct readers to the original reporting.
The other main feature of Circa is the ability to follow certain stories and get updates whenever fresh news arrives. In a way, it's a very similar concept to StoryStreams™ here on The Verge. If you had begun following the story of Felix Baumgartner's record breaking jump to earth last week, Circa could have passed along updates on the weather delays, his ascent, the safe landing, and the tally of records he broke. Rather than reading four separate stories, each with a recap of the basic information, the app has a tab for stories that users are following which automatically refreshes just the breaking tidbits.
The app itself is slick and fast, but didn't deliver any particularly unique or personally relevant news when we tried it out. We asked if using humans to rewrite the news specifically for a mobile audience can really scale, and Galligan said there is a lot of engineering work under the hood, using structured data to help the editorial team operate at high speed. Circa has raised $900,000 in seed from from a group of investors that includes a slew of Davids: Dave Morin of Path, David Karp of Tumblr, Dave Cohen from Techstars and David Tisch of BoxGroup.
"We think a lot of the structure and style of traditional media reporting makes less sense on mobile," says Galligan. "There is a lot of opinion, conjecture and fluff. You read an update to a story and most of it is a rehash of what came before. We can take a story and cut eighty percent of it. What you're left with is the right package for the right information when it comes to consuming news in the mobile age."