Brief, a newly launched news aggregator founded by former Google engineers, aims to solve a number of problems with today’s news cycle, including information overload, burnout, media bias and algorithms where engagement takes precedence over the accuracy of news Has.
Nowadays there are so many places to read news and many aggregators on the market offer access to an almost infinite number of sources. In the meantime, algorithms profile you to determine your inclinations, and then deliver more news that fits your belief to keep you busy with the product.
Brief’s founders wanted to make it easier to stay informed about important topics without having to spend hours reading the news from different angles to get a complete picture.
Prior to the letter, co-founder and CEO Nick Hobbs was a Google product manager who worked on AR, Google Assistant, Google̵
The two met while building the Google iOS app and left, Hobbs says, “after being increasingly alarmed by the damage technology that is affecting public discourse.”
Brief (founded as a broadsheet) consists of a like-minded, task-oriented team, which includes engineers from Apple and Google, as well as a small editorial team that has worked on the curation and verification of facts at Snapchat and Wired.
To date, the company has tested a beta version of its news app in the Apple App Store. The version arriving on Tuesday offers a new design, new functions and a new overall experience.
Brief’s app is very different from what you can expect from a news aggregator such as Apple News or Google News. It is not just intended as a tool to point you to news articles published elsewhere. Instead, the most important facts are summarized, the context is provided and positions are provided from both sides.
“Traditional aggregators were developed to help readers discover more and more content – a holdover of the days when it was actually difficult to find enough interesting things to read online,” Hobbs explains. “Now that the Internet has grown up, everyone faces the opposite problem: There are so many things that require our attention that we end up skimming over and understanding nothing,” he says.
Letter takes the opposite approach. Rather than offering far too many articles to actually read, Brief only offers you some easily digestible news created by journalists. These “front page” summaries help you keep up with key developments in areas such as US news, politics, business and technology. Much of the content for Letter comes from the licensing of AP wire feeds, but will include the latest news and exclusive information from other sources if necessary.
These bulletins are also combined with schedules to help you understand the latest developments in context, as well as relevant quotes that offer different perspectives.
The result is that you can access the most important messages in just a few minutes and not in hours – hence the name of the “Brief” app.
A key area in which Letter wants to differentiate itself is the strong dependence on human curation.
“We firmly believe that human editorial judgment is irreplaceable. That is why our newsroom decides which stories are covered and which priority they have, ”explains Hobbs.
This is similar to the way Apple News relies on a human editorial team to program its own news app, for example. In Brief’s case, journalists not only select the news, but also help translate it into this short form of news reading.
Nevertheless, letter relies on technology where it makes sense. Algorithms help organize the content in the app intelligently, and the software automatically archives the stories you’ve read so you can focus on what’s new to you.
Letter may be as important as its efforts to deal with the information overload crisis, and it also tries to address issues related to increasing polarization of the news. This problem has led readers to isolate themselves within their own ideological bubbles and among their preferred right-wing or left-wing sources.
Although it doesn’t stop news addicts from clicking on their preferred, if biased, cable TV news channels, Brief hopes to reach those who are actually interested in hearing a more balanced perspective. It even aims to reach those who have largely given up the news because of their overwhelming demands.
In order to counteract distortions, Brief first ensures that all users receive the same information. The algorithms don’t try to profile you to determine your inclinations, and then give you more and more content that you are naturally looking for.
And not only all users see the same messages, all content is ordered the same.
To combat bias in message design – including the selective use of quotations and biased sources – Brief introduces a feature called Perspectives, which contains a number of influential voices for each story. Again, this is seen in the same way by all users.
For example, a story about US politics can include quotes relevant to both Republican and Democratic senators or representatives. This means that users can see how both sides think and speak about the topic in question, and that they are not spared from the views of the “other” side, even if this is uncomfortable.
In the event that a page is actually not truthful, the app’s timeline function is useful. This function aims to give the news more context, which can help highlight what was actually said and done and when it happened. The timeline can also be useful for tracking updates on politicized issues, where often much of the conversation is conducted by voices on one side while the other side remains calm. In later times the voice can shift from one side to the other. The timeline helps keep this in balance.
While Letter makes an admirable attempt to solve problems related to message consumption and bias, these are not simple problems that technology alone can solve. There are often stories that are accurately reported by major publications, but those who don’t like the story simply choose not to agree.
In order for the Brief app to actually achieve the desired effect, it has to attract a large mass of users. And it also has to find out how to stop people from getting their messages on social media, where misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and conspiracies thrive. It’s a far bigger challenge – and one for which the app has no strategy. It is only about what Letter itself can do, not how users can be brought to its less algo- rithmic solution.
But Hobbs believes there is a market for a news app that distracts users from the drama.
“I think we can do a pretty good job of finding a lot of people who are really fed up that their messages come with a page of screaming relatives,” Hobbs says, noting that the app is already searching through the app store initial attraction has gained ads alone. Before his public debut, Brief reached No. 12 Magazine & Newspapers on the App Store.
Another problem is that Letter limits its audience through its subscription model, which requires a commitment of $ 4.99 per month. Those who most need news detoxification are unlikely to pay for the pleasure.
The company is backed by a million start-ups from SignalFire and a handful of angel investors, including Sequoia scouts like David Lieb, Maia Bittner and Matt Macinnis.
The app itself can be downloaded for free from the App Store if you want to take a look and there is a waiting list for Android users.