Yahoo’s latest app, Yahoo News Digest (for iPhone and iPod touch), has a worthy goal: Distill the latest news into an easily digestible, smartphone-friendly format. Mostly, it succeeds—with one cheesy exception.
Yahoo announced the app at CES on Tuesday. The DNA comes from Summly, an app created by then-17-year-old Nick D'Aloisio and which Yahoo bought for a staggering $30 million.
Unlike most other news aggregators, Yahoo News Digest refreshes its article lineup twice daily, in the morning and afternoon. It’s a quaint nod to the long-gone days of morning and afternoon newspapers. And yet, the twice-daily refresh also serves the app’s goal: To serve up a curated trickle of news, in the form of eight extremely brief articles, rather than drown you with the Internet-news fire hose.
Whether or not you'll appreciate the approach depends on how much info you want, and in which forms you like it.
For example, on Wednesday morning (Pacific time), the app’s top story was about former defense secretary Robert Gates’s criticism of the Obama administration’s policy toward the Afghanistan war, which Gates wrote about in a forthcoming memoir.
The Yahoo news summary consisted of two paragraphs, two pull quotes, 10 photos and two videos.
Scrolling below the videos, you saw a Wikipedia entry about Gates’s decision in 2008 to stay on as Secretary of Defense when Obama assumed the presidency. Continuing to scroll, there was a review of Gates’s book from The Washington Post, followed by 15 Gates memoir-related tweets, mostly from major news organizations. Finally, six references for the Yahoo news story were listed, each with a link to the original article, which you can read within the app.
By comparison, Circa, my favorite news app (for iOS and Android), had a seven-paragraph story about the Gates criticisms. The summary included three pull quotes followed by eight related stories, a "Recommended article elsewhere" link, and two citations for the article.
Of course, news reporting isn’t about quantity, it’s about quality. Circa’s news summary covered more territory, informing me that Gates’s memoir takes Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to task for the Obama administration’s handling of the Afghanistan war. From the Yahoo news summary, by comparison, I only learned that Gates was critical of Obama and Biden.
Speaking of quality: Yahoo News Digest included among its eight stories on Wednesday morning a piece about a Velveeta shortage (which Circa didn’t include among its top stories). Seriously? That was one of the eight most important news stories on Wednesday morning?
The Yahoo news summary begins: "Kraft Foods is warning it may run short of its Velveeta cheese product…" So it’s not even an actual shortage. And the article gives no reason for this possible shortage. Who cares? The Velveeta story was categorized as a business article, but let’s call it what it really is: fluff.
That questionable item aside, I think there’s room for both Circa and Yahoo News Digest. If you want more news stories refreshed more often, as well as more information, Circa is still the go-to app. (In fact, it was one of my top iOS and Android apps of 2013.) However, if you really just want a quick hit on the top headlines, enjoy seeing brief related videos and don’t mind a little, ahem, cheese, Yahoo News Digest is your app.