Much has been written about the rise of messaging apps like Kik and Slack, and how they are becoming full-fledged platforms for commerce, etc. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Quartz, the business site owned by Atlantic Media, chose a messaging-style metaphor for its new iPhone app. But it looks and feels dramatically unlike almost every other news app available. Will Quartz’s business audience take to this new metaphor?
Quartz released its new free iPhone app on Thursday, and it has virtually none of the things that most news apps have. There’s no front-page style list of headlines and images, there isn’t even a time-sorted feed of stories. There’s just what looks like a friend texting you, asking you in speech bubbles (complete with emojis) what you are interested in reading about.
As the application scrolls, it looks more and more like a conversation—except that Quartz suggests responses for you like “Tell me more,” and “What’s next?” so that you can tell it whether you want to find out more about the existing story or move on to the next one. If you want more information, it gives you a link to the Quartz piece about that topic. During the day, Quartz says, it will ping you with notifications like GIFs or charts, or even a haiku poem about the latest news.
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In a description of the app, Quartz’s head of product Zach Seward says: “It’s an ongoing conversation about the news, sort of like texting: We’ll send you messages, photos, GIFs, and links, and you can tap to respond when you’re interested in learning more about a topic. Each session lasts just a few minutes, so it’s perfect for the train, elevator, grocery store line, or wherever you have a spare moment to catch up on the news.”
“It’s intuitive because it’s a format that we use everyday, as far as iMessage goes, Facebook Messenger, and Slack,” Quartz designer Daniel Lee told Wired. “It’s intimate because it’s a one-on-one conversation with somebody.” It’s not actually a conversation, but it sure feels like one. And there are no ads until the end, where there’s a single sponsor message.
Many news apps have tried to adapt to the quick-scan or time-pressed behavior of users on mobile. The BuzzFeed app, for example, provides a limited number of stories deliberately so that users can feel as though they are caught up on the news. And Quartz also keeps it short, with no more than a few topics. iI you scroll through them all and click “What’s next?” on each, you get to the end in a couple of minutes.
In a sense, the Quartz app is like a conversational version of the site’s daily News Brief, which itself is more or less like an email newsletter with a few highlights and links for more (which isn’t surprising, since the editors in charge of the news brief also work on the Quartz app). Even traditional media outlets including Fortune are finding that email newsletters work well with readers, because they are a fast way to catch up on the news.
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But will readers take to a news app that talks to them about the news? It seems clear that Quartz is aiming at a younger audience, one that is familiar with messaging. In that sense, it’s taking an approach similar to Snapchat, which is putting news into a video-story, chat-style format that seems popular with millennials.
One interesting potential future for Quartz is that designing its app around a conversational, messaging-style metaphor would make it relatively easy to build those news updates right into an existing messaging app like Slack or Kik or Facebook Messenger, as Fusion writer Felix Salmon noted on Twitter after the app was released. In that sense, what Quartz has really built is a news bot that you talk to get your news.