Our users are info addicts, finds survey

We just wrapped up a survey of our Breaking News mobile app users, and the results underline something we already suspected: many of you have a bit of an addiction problem with real-time information.

We asked when users check the app, and the responses went something like “all day long” and “every time I use my phone other than to place a phone call.”  Someone even said they check the app at church. In all, 83% say they use the app outside the home, which is surprisingly high given the large chunk of Breaking News tablet users out there.

Our traffic stats certainly back up the addiction story: approximately 80% of our monthly visits are comprised of people who visit once or more a day.

Our users are not just information consumers, they’re also super sharers.  Just over half (51%) say they share things on social media at least once a week, and 37% say they share one more times every day.  That’s along the lines of what we’ve seen on Twitter: @breakingnews is one of the most retweeted brand accounts in the world.

By the way, we received lots of great feedback on possible improvements to our apps.  The most common suggestion was a “scroll to top” feature, and we just rolled out a new iPhone/iPad update with just that.  You can either tap the “scroll to top” button in the feed or make it happen automatically by throwing a switch over in settings. 

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey, and stay tuned for lots more app improvements to come!

9 ways to become ‘mobile first’

While social media gets lots of the attention, the explosion in smartphones and tablets is reinventing the way we consume and interact with content.  We’ve seen it firsthand here at Breaking News: traffic from devices surpassed desktop traffic back in January, doubled it in June and the gap continues to grow.

We occasionally hear the term “mobile first” in journalism circles, but it rarely comes with an explanation.  Most people intuitively know that a “mobile first” company should tailor its products to devices first, desktop second.  But what does that really mean?  Here are a few things we’re learning here at Breaking News:

1. “Mobile first” is a mindset

Mobile is a new medium, not just a smaller screen size. Have you ever noticed that most people visualize new product ideas in context of the desktop web, and mobile just comes along for the ride?  New ideas are often whiteboarded as standard web pages, but devices are fundamentally different in visual language, user interaction and capabilities.  Like Instagram and Path — both of which have minimalist web presences — the key is to start envisioning a product optimized for devices, and work backwards to the desktop web.  (Like many new mobile startups, you may decide that the desktop website is merely a gateway to a mobile experience.)  This shift isn’t easy, and that’s why many mobile news experiences behave like a simplified desktop website.

2. Aim to solve problems

The most successful apps and web experiences leverage the unique form and features of devices to solve problems for people.  Here at Breaking News, we’ve witnessed the growing explosion of real-time content both from news organizations and “accidental journalists.”  That can be confusing to navigate, especially for non-journalists wielding a device.  We boil it down to a reliable, real-time feed that focuses on just what’s new, linking straight to the source while sifting out duplicate information and unconfirmed reporting.  For us, the stream is the story – which is a mobile-friendly form – with push alerts as a feature.

3. Your users can make or break your product

By virtue of their ratings in app marketplaces, users can make or break your product in ways never before seen in media. Imagine a world where users had to click past comments from others about your web site before they ever saw your home page. That’s how people discover and download mobile apps. Your star rating means more than all the consumer marketing in the world. Heed what they have to say carefully. 

4. Live in the devices world

So how do you start thinking in devices?  Like anything, it helps to immerse yourself.  Load up on iOS and Android (and Windows 8 soon) devices, and shift a big chunk of your desktop behavior — even when you’re sitting at your desk — to your phones and tablets.  Download and play with every cool new app (not just news apps!) you can find.  Use Google’s mobile search and visit various sites, taking note of how they’re truly mobile-friendly or just a dumbed-down site.  And if you have the luxury, embed yourself with mobile developer/designers to soak up as much as you can.  You don’t need to learn how to code in Objective-C, but you’ll pick up on the uniqueness of user interaction, the challenges of optimizing for multiple device types and the release-based approach to application development.

5. Dig into the metrics

People use devices in distinct ways compared to the desktop.  For example, Breaking News’ mobile traffic jumps 15-20% on the weekends.  By digging into your mobile metrics, you can learn about consumption patterns and the true momentum of your products.  How many active users do you have compared to total downloads?  Is that number increasing or decreasing?  What are your most popular mobile stories?  How do people use tablets vs. phones at different times of the day?  How do users respond to push alerts? There’s a tremendous volume of data available which will inform how you approach product development.

6. Recalibrate goals around mobile

Most newsrooms measure their digital performance in desktop and social metrics, but for a truly “mobile first” approach, goals should reflect performance on devices. That means a fundamental shift in how we gauge the success of a content brand and the people behind it.  It also impacts how we highlight successes and challenges across editorial and development teams (for example, whenever we talk about how our audience spiked for a big story, we begin with our mobile performance). This is a “gut check” moment of becoming a mobile first team.  Is it merely a statement or a way of life?

7. Take advantage of mobile tools

Just like social media has triggered an avalanche of new tools, there’s a new crop of mobile companies offering useful tools for user tracking, SEO, A/B testing, advertising optimization and more. (In fact, Twitter just bought Clutch.io, an iOS A/B testing company).  I’m often amazed at how little press these startups attract compared to their social media counterparts.  But a little research does wonders.

8. Experiment and fail (quickly)

This has become a bit of a cliché, but a fast-failure approach to mobile product development is both a necessity and a challenge.  The mobile space is moving so quickly, a nimble approach is key.  However, mobile application development is a more time-consuming process with higher stakes: for example, we once submitted an app that turned out to have an advertising glitch, but the Apple approval process requires several days to roll out a fix.  That’s why app development teams invest more time in testing, and mobile-first companies often iterate on a mobile web version first, grafting the best features into subsequent app releases.

9. Recognize that mobile is hard and costly

App development isn’t easy, and you need an ample budget and lots of patience. You can argue all you want that native apps, closed marketplaces and platform fragmentation are not sustainable. Tell that to your users and expect a serenade on the world’s smallest violin.  Good mobile developers are hard to find, expensive to hire and demanding to keep.  HTML5 holds a lot of promise for the future, but recognize that your users have choices.  If your mobile products are slow, clunky and more focused on being “scalable” than “delightful,” you have an uphill battle.

The mobile product revolution has just begun. Believe in your ideas, but recognize that you (along with everyone else) are only beginning to understand the potential and possibilities.  We’re still learning here at Breaking News, and we invite your feedback. Is your news organization trying to move toward being mobile first? What has worked well for you?

By Cory Bergman (corybe on Tumblr and @corybe) and Andrew Locke

Second screen for real-time news: Perhaps this is a little geeky, but we’ve heard from several Breaking News users who have set up their iPads as second screens next to their computers.  Our recently-updated iPhone/iPad app now features automatic updates, so stories instantly refresh at the top of the stream the moment they break.
So if you’re a news junkie who always wants be the first to know, you can dock your iPad on one of these (or just prop it up) and keep an eye on the world while you work.

Second screen for real-time news: Perhaps this is a little geeky, but we’ve heard from several Breaking News users who have set up their iPads as second screens next to their computers.  Our recently-updated iPhone/iPad app now features automatic updates, so stories instantly refresh at the top of the stream the moment they break.

So if you’re a news junkie who always wants be the first to know, you can dock your iPad on one of these (or just prop it up) and keep an eye on the world while you work.

Pick your news feed on new BreakingNews.com

We’ve just rolled out a fresh update to BreakingNews.com that makes it even easier to discover stories that matter to you.  As our real-time editors publish an increasing volume of breaking news around the world, you can now pick the type of news feed you want to see.

If you’re looking for a quick update over the last few hours, click “important” to boil down the stream to the bigger stories.  Keep it on “more” if you like our current feed of about 200 updates a day.



But if you’re a news junkie, click “all sources” (above) to see a full stream of real-time updates from our editors, tips from 280 news partners and automated news alerts.  For example, you’ll see earthquake alerts from USGS, weather alerts from NOAA, Amber Alerts, breaking news from police and fire departments and more.  This is the same feed our editors watch, and there’s no faster way to discover breaking news.



We’ve also incorporated “hot” stories, photos and video in the right column of the BreakingNews.com home page.  These are stories with early social momentum: we measure “sudden popularity” by looking at how quickly they’re being shared across Twitter and Facebook. 

The “submit” section of the site has been condensed into a single “submit link” option at the top of the page. If you see breaking news on the web, pop the link in there and it will ping our editorial team.  For the sake of simplicity, we’ve phased out the “feeds” and “search” part of the site.

We’re also experimenting with new categories on the site: tech, business, sports and entertainment have joined our existing politics, weather and UK categories.  (You can see them at the bottom of the left column.)  Please let us know if you have any other favorites!

Finally, we’ve added a few frequently-requested features to our iPhone and iPad app.  The updated app now refreshes stories automatically and displays thumbnails of photos and videos.  And the iPhone app supports a horizontal display.

Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks as we continue to roll out new features, and as always, don’t hesitate dropping us a note with questions or suggestions.

(Post by @corybe)

Breaking News debuts on the iPad: We’re excited to (finally!) make our debut on the iPad with an app that makes it easier than ever to discover news as it happens.  The new Breaking News + app offers a broader range of real-time updates than you’ll see on @breakingnews on Twitter, along with push alerts on big stories, topic and story tracking, as well as a real-time map of breaking stories. Just like BreakingNews.com and our other mobile apps, each story is selected by our around-the-clock team of editors.  We use social tools to track news from thousands of sources across world news, business, politics, technology, weather, sports and entertainment.

We’re big fans of apps like Flipboard and Google Currents, but we wanted to create a tablet app that’s focused on discovering verified stories before they become popular on social media.  For example, Breaking News published this week’s Supreme Court health care ruling moments after it was released, correctly reporting the outcome while misinformation spread like wildfire on Twitter. The new universal app rolls out with a refreshed iPhone experience, as well.  In addition to a faster, cleaner design, we’ve also added a one-touch feature to navigate straight to the originating story without leaving the app.  Another update is coming in the next few weeks with more improvements. Give it a download and please let us know what you think. We’ve already incorporated well over a dozen of your suggestions in the last few months.   PS. If you’re a Kindle Fire user, we already have a tablet app for that. (Post by @corybe)

Breaking News debuts on the iPad: We’re excited to (finally!) make our debut on the iPad with an app that makes it easier than ever to discover news as it happens.  The new Breaking News + app offers a broader range of real-time updates than you’ll see on @breakingnews on Twitter, along with push alerts on big stories, topic and story tracking, as well as a real-time map of breaking stories.
 
Just like BreakingNews.com and our other mobile apps, each story is selected by our around-the-clock team of editors.  We use social tools to track news from thousands of sources across world news, business, politics, technology, weather, sports and entertainment.

We’re big fans of apps like Flipboard and Google Currents, but we wanted to create a tablet app that’s focused on discovering verified stories before they become popular on social media.  For example, Breaking News published this week’s Supreme Court health care ruling moments after it was released, correctly reporting the outcome while misinformation spread like wildfire on Twitter.
 
The new universal app rolls out with a refreshed iPhone experience, as well.  In addition to a faster, cleaner design, we’ve also added a one-touch feature to navigate straight to the originating story without leaving the app.  Another update is coming in the next few weeks with more improvements.
 
Give it a download and please let us know what you think. We’ve already incorporated well over a dozen of your suggestions in the last few months. 
 
PS. If you’re a Kindle Fire user, we already have a tablet app for that.
 
(Post by @corybe)

Google Currents, Flipboard add Breaking News

Announcing two more places where you can get Breaking News' coverage. Google Currents has added Breaking News to the top of its “curators” category (below left), and you can subscribe to receive our latest stories.



Over on Flipboard (above right), you may already be seeing Breaking News’ curation if you’ve connected your Twitter or Facebook accounts (and you follow us there.)  But we’ve been added to Flipboard’s news category for those who want to add Breaking News separately.

For news organizations that tip Breaking News, both of these additions expand the distribution potential of your original stories.  We’re sending well over 100K clicks a day to news orgs and eyewitness accounts.

By the way, if you like to receive breaking news alerts in real-time on your phone or tablet — with push alerts — download one of our free mobile apps for iPhone, Android or the Kindle Fire.