As a news junkie and avid iPhone user, I am constantly on the lookout for novel approaches to displaying news on my phone. Circa (iTunes Link, iPhone only, free) is a news app that introduces a new way of consuming news, promising to minimise signal-to-noise ratio by showing you just the relevant parts. The question is, does Circa deliver on its promise?

How the app works
Circa does the following. When starting the app, you are presented with two categories: Top Stories & the Presidential Election 2012. By default the app takes you straight to the top stories. In it you see a list of hot stories (Armstrong’s losing battle to the doping accusations, a new Earth-sized planet that’s been discovered, etc.), hand-picked by Circa’s editors. But the real difference happens when you click on the story.

The Circa website explains it better than I can:

  1. Circa’s editors gather top stories and break them down to their essential points — facts, quotes, photos, and more, formatted specifically for the phone.
  2. Keep track of stories that matter to you. Whenever there are new developments in a story you’re following, Circa adds a new point to it rather than making you read a whole new article.
  3. Do it ‘cause you want to, not ‘cause you have to. Circa helps you share individual points or whole stories using Facebook or Twitter.

I’ve been using it for a few days now and am having some issues with it, some based on habit, some based on interface issues. Prolific readers like me tend to skim news-stories–we already do what the app does for us. So having it done for you makes it feel like you’ll never really get to see the whole story. But this may be something that I get used to over time.

The interface also takes some getting used too. Circa splits the main points of the story by iPhone screen (clearly meant for the iPhone 5 screen size  as I often find myself having to scroll down to see 3-5 more lines), and you have to scroll/pull to the next screen to see the next point. I find that it accomplishes accentuating important titbits, but also being pulled out of the flow of reading/skimming the story.

As the stories are fairly US-centric and I live in the Netherlands, I find myself not using the story-following feature much. But I imagine it will be very cool for more complex stories that develop over time.

I do wonder whether this model is sustainable. Yes, sharing individual points over social networks is a great feature, but does it innovate much over other news-outlets that also summarise the news? And does it then justify the manual/perhaps automised work done by editors to split stories apart?

I wholly recommend giving this app a try. Perhaps it is a solution to getting just the news. And I hope for them that their use case and business model works.