Sure, Facebook is launching Instant Articles, and Apple News is also on the way — but a Bushwick resident is hoping the app he just launched at Northside Festival will be the future of news consumption.
“The big boys want to host your content and we don’t think that’s right,” said Trond Werner Hansen at the launch of Kite yesterday. The free iOS app allows you to share articles without the interference of algorithms and to view articles shared by those you follow without the clutter of sponsored content. In short, it’s “Instagram for news,” said Hansen.
“There are two types of curation that work: social is one and the other is journalistic curation,” said Hansen after his presentation. “That’s why Kite is embracing those two ways. I’ve never seen algorithmic curation work.”
We stood outside of The Counting Room in Williamsburg as people sampled the free hors d’oeuvre and sipped beer from the launch inside. Hansen, a resident of Bushwick for three years, is originally from Norway and has 20 years of experience as a web browser developer (among other things, he co-designed a prototype of Mozilla’s mobile web browser, amid some controversy).
The shaggy-haired Hansen talked in a straight-forward manner that made us buy his argument that people “don’t want content to be owned by Facebook and Apple.” Still, he admits it will take approximately two years before there is a wide enough range of Kite users to follow. “You need people there so you can follow them for it to be interesting. There will be a tipping point when it gets real traction and the value becomes really clear,” he said. The app won’t be available to Android users until the fall (it’ll eventually be accessible on all formats – TV, tablet, desktop, etc.).
In the meantime, we downloaded it onto our iPhone (invite code: “Northside”) and gave it a spin. The app starts you off by linking you to a few random people and organizations (Northside is one of them).
At the bottom of the screen are a few buttons that allow you to share articles, access your reading list, privately message other users, and view the newsfeed of articles shared by those you follow. Swipe to the left and you’ll see a list of renowned news sites like Wall Street Journal, Vice, and Time. Or you can search for others to add like, ahem, Bedford + Bowery. Favoriting the site adds it to your list, so you can access it later.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Kite is that you can also share articles via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, or in a private message to another user. When sharing, you can add comments and select a favorite emoji that readers will be able to tap in agreement (no more having to “like” a post announcing a celebrity’s death).
Christopher Hollinger, who attended the launch, said two things made him eager to try out the app: “One is that [Hansen] was saying you can download content and read it on the subway. It’s a great opportunity to read stuff on my phone and take advantage of that dead time. The other thing he spoke about is being able to share content without sending URLs, which is so much easier to do than copying and pasting the URL.”
Caroline Jameson was seated a few tables away from Hollinger and has already used the app. “The content seems diverse but substantial and gets to the gritty stuff,” she said, adding that the articles were relevant and not full of “superfluous social nonsense.”
Taaron Sundby — a former marketer for the app who came to the launch to support Hansen, a longtime friend — acknowledged it needs more time to grow in users. Once that happens he’ll be able to receive news from people “who have more clout, and whose opinions line up with mine. Then they’ll probably be sharing news I love and I would directly consume.”
Just like Netflix changed the viewing of shows and movies, Hansen expects Kite — and the practice of viewing content curated by friends, without corporate interference — to transform news consumption. Hansen went into more depth about why a “Silicon Valley, geeky engineering approach” to hosting content doesn’t work: “They thought content is something you can solve, like it’s a problem and you can engineer the perfect feed. That’s not how it works. Content is culture and you can’t solve culture.”