Talking tech since 2003

Circa is a news service that focuses on delivering news to people by offering quick and manageable pieces (or atomic units, as Circa likes to refer to it themselves) of information presented in an easy to read format.  Until today, the service worked pretty much exclusively on iOS via the Circa app, with a very limited version of the service available on the web that if you wanted to access, you literally had to search Twitter to find the latest stories.

circa-social-media-mishap-storyToday, the web version of Circa is improving, the company announced that you can now follow and share stories on social via the web version.  For example, take a look at this story about companies failing at commemorating 9/11 on their social media channels, you will notice the “Follow Storyline” button and the social sharing buttons underneath.  Clicking the follow button will prompt you to login into Circa, once you do, it will sync the fact you have followed the story on the web version with the mobile app.  Nice.

Obviously today’s improvements are a good step forward, but you still can’t really browse Circa’s latest news from the web like you can with the app — at least, not yet.  But while it’s not currently possible, it certainly seems like that will be something we will be seeing in the not-so-distant future.  When I spoke with Circa founding editor, David Cohn a few weeks back, he told me to expect changes to the web version shortly and that the changes would make the web version more in-line with the app.

Circa is working hard to break down the news and make it easier to consume.  Circa doesn’t write articles in the traditional sense or go out and find scoops, they are just focusing on improving the way we consume news by presenting the news in a new way. “Part of our value add is that we break down the news but it’s also news that you can trust,” said Mr. Cohn.  He went on to tell me a fact he’s very proud of with regard to Circa’s reporting on the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt thereafter, “We didn’t put in anything that we later had to correct.”

That may seem like not such a big deal because after all the news is supposed to be reliable.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always, especially when tragic events occur, there is just so much misinformation everywhere it’s not always easy to discern what’s true all the time.

Part of the reason I love Circa so much is the way they handle storylines.  Every day the Circa editorial team (which is across the world), scans the news in an effort to capture the zeitgeist stories of the day.  The brilliant part about Circa’s approach is that they don’t always start a new story for each new piece of news.  “On any given day we update 60-70 existing stories, very few stories don’t have updates,” said Mr. Cohn.  When I asked for examples of stories that typically don’t receive updates he told me typically obituaries and academic studies.  Makes sense.

So hows does Circa decide when a story is an update or a new story?

A good question.

According to Mr. Cohn, “The first thing that always comes up is, is this potentially an update to existing story?”

An example of what would be an update to an existing story would be if you look at a story like Yahoo’s websites beating Google’s websites in terms of web traffic in July, the next time that story would receive an update would likely be in a month when the new numbers are released or if a story comparing the two company’s web traffic is published.

But sometimes a particular story has a ton of different angles such was the case for the Boston Marathon bombings.  In that case the Circa team split up the storyline’s by angles. For example: the first day of the Boston bombings had its own story, looking for the bombers had its own story, the initial shootings in Cambridge had its own story but was then updated and linked back to the Boston bombers manhunt once they realized it was actually the bombers.

Circa’s ability to follow a story over a period of time “is radically different, and respects the readers,” said Mr. Cohn.  Typically, the reporter has to rewrite stories if there’s an update and “do a dance” for people who are brand new to a story and people who already have context.  With Circa people following the story get the new information, while non-followers get the entire context.  It’s like a win-win, I think.

The company has a bunch of things in the works right now along with its new web version.  A new version of Circa for iOS is in the works — version 2.0 and I’m told to not hold my breath, but that it isn’t that far away.  According to Mr. Cohn, version 2.0 will “feel like a very real news app.”  Along with the updated iOS app, Circa also has an Android app in the works.  Which will you see first?  I’m betting on version 2 of the iOS app.

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