Turning inner space into outer space

May 29, 2014

Reverb app focuses discovery feature on top news of the day

Apps like Zite and Prismatic are great because they help you discover stories about topics you’re interested in, but that you might never have found otherwise.

But they tend to be lacking in news focus. And that’s fine, because not all subjects lend themselves to a news angle. If you’re interested in web design, for example, you hardly expect that there will be breaking news on developments in HTML.

Still, there are plenty of areas that are a good fit for news updates. If you’re interested in Ukraine, unemployment rates, the NFL draft, or even Brad Pitt, there can be plenty to keep tabs on.

Enter Reverb.

This new app for iPhone and iPad takes the discovery feature found in other apps and narrows the focus to the big news of the day. So in the Top News list (as I write this) are topics such as the Ukraine crisis, the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, the death of Maya Angelou and a drop in jobless claims in the U.S. But that’s just the beginning.

In addition to these curated topics, you can swipe to the left and find a section called My News, which is based on stories that you have viewed in the past or on interests that you can add manually. For me, the list changed to the Apple App Store, Apple Inc., Ukraine and Vladimir Putin. The App Store was something I added myself with the idea that it would help me keep up with new apps. The others are based on stories I have explored in previous days.

If there is a weakness in this system, it’s that the stories you view initially are likely to be ones near the top in the curated Top News list. We humans have been trained over the decades to understand that things at the top are more important than things further down on a list. Keep this in mind as you choose what to read, and you’ll get a better reflection of your interests in My News.

In addition, there is yet another screen for Social News based on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. The idea is to view these feeds by topic. Unfortunately, I was not able to get this section to work. For Twitter, I received “an unexpected error.” I was able to connect with Facebook and received a prompt asking me to wait a few minutes, but after many minutes I finally gave up.

It is indeed unfortunate that it didn’t work because it might have made a good supplement to Flipboard, which also bases it’s articles on your social feeds. On the other hand, it did set up a profile for me based on Facebook. If you tap a star icon at the bottom of a story, it becomes a favourite and will show up in the My Profile screen — handy as a read-it-later feature.

Another feature I should mention is the ability to go deep. If you tap on the Ukraine topic, for example, you’ll get several stories, including analysis and background. And if you keep scrolling, you’ll find other topics such as (in this case) Romania. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t find the stories on Romania all that relevant even if it is a neighbouring country.

On a final note, I have mixed feelings about the interface. The bold multi-coloured headlines look kinda cool but will probably seem gimmicky a few months down the road. An icon at the top left allows you to change to a view used in many other apps — a headline on top of a picture. It’s not original but at least it could be considered more of a standard for those with design sensibilities.

The bottom line for this app is that I find myself using it fairly regularly. It hasn’t quite become part of my news routine but it has the potential.