Serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis has finally lifted the veil on his newest product, Inside, which he says is the best thing he’s ever done.
It’s a newsreader app that gives users a condensed, 300 character summary of stories from around the Web. The app is powered by a team of freelancers that culls the news – ranging from breaking stories to features to human interest pieces – then writes up so-called “atomic units” of content.
Each story links to its original source at the end, fulfilling Calacanis’ wish that Inside be a gateway to original content rather than a mere aggregator. The app is available for iPhones, with an Android version in the works. (For the time being, non-iPhone owners can use the mobile Web version of the site at www.inside.com.)
Every time the app is launched readers are presented with a news stream, which they can customize by indicating which articles they like and want to see more of. There’s also a Top News tab that displays the day’s biggest events, as chosen by an editor. He said the site would be supported, eventually, though native advertising.
This endeavor brings Calacanis full circle as an entrepreneur. His initial success came from blog network Weblogs Inc., sold to AOL in 2005 for a reported $25 million. Since then he’s built the perpetually pivoting Mahalo.com in Culver City, which began as a human-powered search engine before moving to a “How To” site.
That entire category took a dive in 2011 when Google changed up its search algorithm to derank the factories of user generated content. Mahalo later switched to Web video, joining the YouTube original content initiative and transforming its warehouse-like office into a video production studio.
But Calacanis has remained publicly at odds with YouTube over money and abandoned the effort once he decided the margins were unfavorable and the commitment from the Google-owned video platform was lacking.
So, now, news. But what perhaps makes this effort the most promising for Calacanis is that for the first time he’s in no way dependent on the Internet-chomping search engine.
“I designed (Inside) in part because of my frustration with Google,” Calacanis said. “The best way around them is through the app ecosystem.”
There is also a moralistic drive behind what he’s doing. In keeping Inside summaries short, avoiding lists or misleading headlines, this app is supposed to reward good journalism and original reporting.
In the media world there’s no shortage of handwringing about the effects of news aggregators such as Business Insider or the more frivolous lists from BuzzFeed.
While both these sites tout serious works, and defend the banner content as necessary traffic bait to underwrite the real stuff, Calacanis is unimpressed.
Especially with the recent trend of faux-emotional headlines, popularized by Upworthy, that are engineered to appeal to social media streams. And are frequently misleading.
“That kind of stuff is so over the top that I think it’s ruining journalism,” he said. “I think we’re correcting what they overdid.”
With Inside, he says the focus is entirely on the original report. But unlike the crew that’s producing content for Circa, a competing newsreader app out of the Bay Area, Inside’s freelancers are not journalists. Rather they’re expert news readers and sourcers, led by Gabriel Snyder, a former editor at Gawker and most recently the editor in chief of the Wire (Atlantic Magazine’s online site).
The grand vision is to make Inside the starting point for news. It’s a gateway that leads people to the story without any of the modern Web trickery.
That isn’t to say Calacanis imagines Inside as an age where many of today’s most popular news sites don’t exist. It just tries to flip their script.
“We’re aggregating the aggregators,” Calacanis said. “BuzzFeed and Business Insider are doing a lot of the heavy lifting for us and we thank them.”