Summly & the death of long form journalism

Summly is wonderful story. Nick D’Aloisio, aged 17 started Summly a couple of years ago. It’s an app that delivers digested news to your smart phone and Yahoo! will integrate it into their mobile offering. Evidence that Marissa Mayer is getting Yahoo! focussed on mobile, thankfully. Yahoo! in the US market has always been a great content company – in fact, better at being a content company, than a search company. More on that another day. Nick D’Aloisio will work for Yahoo! and study for his A-Levels; smart and level-headed.

But there’s evidence in this story of something else – evidence that long-form journalism is under continuing threat. In this world of 140 character job applications it isn’t surprising that brevity is winning out. If it were just brevity, I’d suffer on – but punctuation’s disappearing, attention spans are contracting and I’m noticiing that people I know who used to tell great yarns, are now speaking in sound-bites. Sound-bites like ‘the hand of history upon my shoulder’ are one thing – but a sound-bite about Granny’s birthday bash leaves me little cold.

“There has been an explosion of freely available data from various sources over the past few years. We need to go through that data, identify which of it is of interest to our readers and then turn it into compelling content which gives people context as well as the ability to search the data for information which will appeal to them.”

— David Higgerson, Trinity Mirror Group

So Summly, it’s beautifully designed and clever, albeit we’re told designed with licensed technology from SRI, which was subsequently acquired by Apple. Summly is filling a real need for news readers on mobile devices. I’m encouraged by it as a start-up story, I’m telling everyone I know to go to ull.ie in Dublin, ireland next month to meet the leaders in mobile app development; I  maintain my own website with ‘mobile-first’ in mind. Mobile has changed the way we discover news, but it shouldn’t change how we understand it.

Many aggregation and digest services use algorithms so many stories with a quirky or perhaps spiritual element are lost to the bottom of the pile. Can a digital editor synopsise the key elements of a complex story, with at least two sides, a couple of countries and one good moral predicament in 400 words? Perhaps. It’s a challenge though – and the challenge of reading, discovering and understanding news is what’s always appealed to me.    < 400  Ed.

  1. Long form journalism on the web
  2. Summly News @ the BBC online
  3. Trinity Mirror : Digital Journalism announcement
  4. Running a tech news site, difficult? : Charles Arthur Blog Post
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