I'm newly obsessed by TikTok, the social video platform that combines the best parts of Vine and a casino slot machine. Its interface is easy. IT shows me just one thing at a time. And the algorithm powering it is uncannily good at learning my tastes and serving up what I like.
Why aren't more news apps like this? I recognize there's a big difference between quality journalism and funny videos, but I don't see a single major news app emulating the awesome, serendipitous user interfaces we're seeing from social media companies.
I think three things apply:
I'm not arguing that these positions are wrong -- though I look askance at being conservative for conservativeness's sake. But I do wonder if a more serendipitous, easier-to-navigate news app would appeal to people in interstitial moments, those times when you're waiting in line or taking a Lyft and just want something to occupy your attention.
A few apps (Economist Espresso, Refinery29 This AM, the now-defunct Quartz Briefing) have tried to hit this target. But right now, my go-to is TikTok or Instagram. Is there room for something more intellectually fulfilling?
I'd argue a place like The Atlantic actually has a good mix of content for a TikTok-type app. Instead of simply relaying the news, most of its stories consider a question or pose an argument. And a lot of its stuff falls nicely into the "wonder-and-delight" category that could grab people immediately.
Here's how it would work:
We'd need to record which stories they've read or swipe through, so we avoid showing them again. And it might be nice to have a "save-for-later" function -- if they're interested but don't have enough time in the elevator, they can bookmark a story.
Now, I'm not saying this replaces an organization's news app. It's still important to have the editors' voice saying, "These are the stories you should read!" But as a complimentary app, or even a tab within a larger site, I think this could be pretty fun.