10 min

Circa's mobile app versus the web and RSS

#todo finish editing

Jul 23, 2014 - Scripting News - Where's Circa's RSS feed?

For more than a year, I've been accessing Circa news stories via their Twitter page at .

But since I finally got with the times and acquired a smartphone last month, June 2014, I use the Circa app, and I enjoy it significantly better.

I believe Circa founded itself as a media org to be consumed on mobile devices, especially phones. Circa creates snippets or cards of short, concise stories that focus on facts. Minimalistic. That's a gross, over-simplification of Circa.

For additional info, I might visit a corresponding Wikipedia page if one exists or a Vox page if one exists.

I like Circa's idea and format. With the app, I can follow stories, such as the Malaysian airline shot down over Ukraine and the current Tour De France.

Circa continues to update the original story as new information accumulates. The app sends a push notification about new updates to stories that I follow.

Before the app, I would have preferred a Circa RSS feed over their Twitter page. But with the iPhone app, I can't see any other way of consuming content from Circa, and I think that's what Circa intended. I won't get the same experience from an RSS feed, so I don't need it.

Vox updates explainer pages. I need to see if they provide an app with push notifications for updates on stories that interest me.

Updating the same page is nothing new. Wikipedia has done this for a while. It's nice to see media adopt the idea, instead of creating a new article every day for an on-going story because new information becomes available.

With digital, it makes more sense to update the original story. And with more people consuming content over phones, it makes sense to provide the push notification feature for updated stories.

If Circa provides an RSS feed, the feed would have to be based upon changes or modified date and not creation date. Otherwise, new updates to an old story would not appear in the feed if the feed is sorted like a blog in descending, creation-date order.

The Circa Twitter page / feed lags well behind the content published through their mobile app, and this too is probably by design. And it's possible that some Circa stories do not get syndicated to their Twitter page. I'll look at this some more.

Anyway, for what Circa is trying to do, the mobile app experience is superior to a Twitter page and an RSS feed if it existed.


Dave Winer snarkily said:

Why don't you just publish all of Circa on Medium then?

Winer gets Circa people to respond, and then Winer mistreats them with simple-minded commentary.

First, a person should read about Circa's business philosophy and evaluate the free Circa news app, and then provide intelligent, constructive criticism, instead of shouting at people and demanding that a tech media company implement a feature just because it's old and proven. RSS may not make sense for every situation.

Winer commented again:

[Circa] probably had similar logic that said people don't ead news on the desktop and laptop computers, so we don't need a web interface. Now they have one.

Really? I did not know that Circa had a web interface. And I now I don't care that they do. I don't see how their web interface can provide the experience that I enjoy with their mobile app.

I like the web a lot. I still prefer web over apps but not in all situations. I still use Facebook's mobile web interface on my iPhone instead of their app, but I only access Facebook occasionally.

But I enjoy the Instagram phone app.

Basically, I like both: web and native apps. Whichever gives me the experience that I want, that's what I use. But I don't like downloading an app for every web site or web service.

So if the site does not display well on the phone with responsive web design, then I move on. The only exception is I tolerate, to a point, that site's lame look on the iPhone.

Based upon Circa's business model, the RSS feed idea and their web interface make little sense.

Dave wrote:

I've been doing fine without Circa.

And now that I use the Circa phone app, I've been doing great without anything else that Circa provides or may provide, web-wise.

Circa's website is and I don't see a stream of news story links. - Jul 23, 2014 - By Matt Galligan, co-founder and CEO of Circa.

... so why don’t we use RSS? The reasons were many, but I’ll try to dive into just a few of them here:

Circa doesn’t publish traditional articles
RSS has traditionally been used for websites that publish articles. Those articles get sent out stripped of rich formatting and are easily consumed in “RSS readers.” Because most web publications follow the traditional article format, this makes a lot of sense. However, Circa doesn’t begin to adhere to a traditional article format and that’s where things get a bit more difficult.

Yep. Makes sense, especially after spending time with Circa's mobile app. I'm guessing that Dave has not tried Circa's phone app.

Stories constantly update and evolve
A major complication of bringing Circa to RSS is that our stories are constantly updating. While traditional news organizations will publish brand new articles with each advancement in a story, Circa simply updates whatever story we’ve previously run about that news. Within the Circa News app, anyone that happens to be following that story sees only the new points as they’re added since we know what they’ve already seen. This is an amazing user experience for anyone that’s tried to keep up with developing news.

Again, using the Circa app, a user would clearly understand the above explanation, and a user would not make a silly statement like Winer did when he said:

Why don't you just publish all of Circa on Medium then?

I wish that a local news org like the Toledo Blade would create something similar for news about northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. It could be another produce in their list of services. A localized Circa.

I'm always trying to localize something: MetaFilter, Wikipedia, Vox, etc.

More from the Circa founder about how RSS does cannot satisfy Circa's publishing model:

We have no way of knowing what’s been read before, so we can’t intelligently re-sort things that the reader hasn’t seen yet. This will likely lead to the exact thing we set out to prevent in someone’s news reading experience — re-reading stuff they’ve seen already.

Other sources would add the words “UPDATE” and whatever the new information is on top of the article they wrote, then push that back out via RSS. However because more than 50% of our writings are updates it would lead to quite a poor reading experience.

More about Circa's design for the mobile app audience:

Points, not paragraphs
A typical Circa story is made up news, atomized into individual points, and structured in a format that’s easy to read within our apps. This is a departure from how paragraphs would otherwise be formatted.

While Circa’s points might look like paragraphs, they’re not treated as such when considering how we write them. Instead, they’re treated as bits of news that in and of themselves could be separated from the story and exist on their own.

This may seem like an odd reason not to have RSS, but the user experience around pronoun usage and Circa is important. Because we intend every point to be potentially reusable, we have to write it in such a way that it would still make sense if the rest of the story wasn’t present. It’s with these instances that pronouns aren’t often used when continuing to mention a person, place, or thing within a Circa story.

A reader may see an individual’s name many times within one of our stories. Whereas in a traditional article most of those instances would be replaced with pronouns, because Circa uses the visual medium of “Cards” it’s easier for the reader to separate those bits of information as different things — not a free flowing article.

RSS’s format stripping = no more cards
Because the visual medium that Circa relies upon is not possible with RSS, the problems described above with the lack of transitionary language, pronouns, and otherwise free flowing words, make the user experience of reading an RSS-based Circa story poor.

It all makes sense to me.

People complain about how the newspaper industry failed to innovate fast enough, and many of their offerings were simply web mirrors of their print products, instead of new unique, experiences.

Well, new media startups today cannot simply maintain a blog, provide an RSS feed, and syndicate content to a zillion social media sites.

Today's media startups need to innovate and create new experiences, like Circa is trying to do.

"Old," established blog networks better innovate for the future, or they could be left behind by new startups. Established blog sites that fail to adapt could be tomorrow's newspapers.

More from the Circa founder:

We truly believe that the best Circa experience is had when using the apps — especially when following stories. We’ve spent an incredible amount of time thinking through the best possible user experience for news and built all of that into our DNA.

I’ve said previously in various interviews that in the case of Circa, the product cannot be easily divorced from the content without great sacrifice.

The experience of our app is tightly intertwined with our content.

Therefore when you strip the experience away and leave only the content behind, we’re just any other news content and historically that’s not something we’ve been keen on promoting.

About answering Winer's call to support RSS:

hile RSS would be easy to roll out, it’s not easy to roll out well. Our CMS is 100% custom, so it’s not like we’re able to drop in some pre-built plugin to make an RSS implementation work. Developing an RSS feed will take time, which diverts those resources from other priorities.

... we’re a small team and just haven’t really had the time to dedicate to what a high quality RSS-based Circa experience would be like.

However we can’t deny its potential use, and think that for a small subset of our audience it may be one way they’d like to consume our news. Therefore when we get ready to launch our upcoming web experience, we’re hoping to include with it an RSS feed of our news in a format that we think will best work for the medium.

If Dave had taken the time to read old articles about Circa's goals, and if he tried Circa's phone app for a week, then he would not have made this ill-informed statement:

I think he's over-thinking it.

How can someone who knows next to nothing about Circa still know more about Circa's operation than the founder of Circa?

I've enjoyed reading most of Dave's blog postings for many years. Instead of sounding upset with Circa, Dave should have tried to understand Circa's innovative way of assembling and sharing news, and then Dave should have thought about how to replicate Circa's ideas within RSS.

I certainly hope that Circa's small, creative team does not direct too many resources away from their mobile app experience to support RSS and the web.

#media - #mobile - #app - #rss - #design - #blog_jr

By JR - 1928 words
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