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In praise of Apple News

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in real life refer to the Apple News app. It seems to me that it has virtually no social cachet. And yet, it’s an app I use every day, and which I really appreciate: it took a little while to get into, but once you give it some signals (giving articles a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ and following or blocking sources of stories) then it quickly comes to learn one’s preferences.

I have Apple News+ and, in addition, the app syncs with my login credentials for a number of providers (like The Economist), which means that I get access to quite a bit of subscription-only content through the app.

But there’s one ‘killer feature’ in the Apple News app which keeps me coming back, and it’s one I’ve never seen discussed elsewhere. Unlike some apps, where the ‘top stories’ are driven entirely algorithmically, Apple News has editors who curate the news in various ways. They select ‘top stories’, but also promote notable feature articles, and even curate collections of articles on topical themes.

One advantage of this is that they use ‘breaking news’ push notifications extremely judiciously. I think it was Jeff Jarvis who once said that the threshold for ‘breaking news’ notifications should be ‘news you’d interrupt a meeting for,’ and I think they get that about right. It’s the only news app whose notifications I haven’t blocked.

But the ‘killer feature’ is how they handle curated news stories from sources you have blocked. The temptation—perhaps even the logical option—would be to hide them, but Apple News doesn’t. Instead, it shows a grey tile with the headline in the curated position, along with a message that the user has blocked the source.

This is a wonderful way to stop people becoming trapped in filter bubbles. It says, ‘hey, you might not want to hear about this, but we have judged that it’s objectively important.’

Showing that level of confidence in the editors’ professional judgement is admirable, particularly in our ever-more divided culture. The combination of human-curated news and algorithmically driven sections on topics that the system thinks I’m interested in makes a compelling combination.

The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: Media, Post-a-day 2023, .

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