Why “The Daily” will FAIL

The Daily FAIL

The best products and services are ones that try to solve problems. In particular, problems that the consumer has, not the producer.

The new iPad-only news source, The Daily, is concerned with solving one problem — how to make more money for News Corp.

At its core, The Daily is a giant leap backwards for online and mobile news. Its major drawbacks include:

  • an app centric model
  • a complete lack of diversity
  • too little content
  • no control over content
  • inefficient user interface
  • subscription cost

The future of the Internet is not Apps

One of the more absurd predictions that has been permeating in the technium social discourse — especially from ignorant blowhards that are trying to bring attention to themselves — is the demise of the website, and the rise of the mobile app.

I can only imagine the discussions that were held in News Corp meetings about the future of news, and how they think it will be consumed in the future. The technology-ignorant suits probably discussed how they’ll be left behind, that is, unless they sink their resources into a fully mobile app version of their content. All of this, while at the same time, already having multiple websites that could easily drive the content of their new panacea app. Instead, they chose to spend $30 million to reinvent themselves, resulting in more of the same, and completely missing the point of how people want to consume content via mobile devices.

A mobile app does one thing, and one thing only. It provides a device friendly interface for an Internet based service. 37signals recently provided a good example of this, when they launched mobile friendly versions of their Web apps. There’s nothing about The Daily that requires it to be made just for the iPad, and that’s one of the reasons why The Daily is pure gimmick.

My guess is that Apple – especially Steve Jobs – knew this from the beginning. However, they would be idiots to deter a major media company from spending millions of dollars to build and promote an app built exclusively for their hardware. Maybe Apple’s announcement about Jobs’ leave of absence was timed so he didn’t have to associate himself with this doomed to fail app launch. (yes, I’m kidding, mostly)

Taking away diversity is not forward thinking

The diversity of opinion and news available on the Internet is unprecedented, and that’s a good thing. That means we not only have choice, we also have more information to consider, enabling us to make more informed opinions.

By design, The Daily homogenizes and reduces the content you have access to. It places you into a news bubble, only occasionally reminding you that websites still exist. It also doesn’t solve the problem of needing easily digestible content. That’s because it’s already predigested. There’s no variety of sources, and the problem is not too much content, but too little.

People want control of their content sources

The demise of the newspaper isn’t simply because the medium is outdated and the content becomes quickly stale, it’s because people want choice. The Internet has allowed the role of editor to be shared with the reader.

Services like Google News have played a key role in providing these choices, but its RSS that has provided the foundation of choice. RSS allows the reader to control where they get their content from. For example, sports, political opinion, world news, and other other topics can all come from different news sources.

The Daily does away with that control, and reinforces the USA Today model, but only on an iPad. Lame.

Style shouldn’t hinder the user experience

Using The Daily on the iPad is only slightly less painful than using ABC News’ rotating globe interface. The main interface uses a CoverFlow-like model to swipe through news topics. It’s as if the designers said, “this is an interactive format, and you’re going to interact with it whether you like it or not!” The result is an inefficient series of swiping and navigation to sparse content.

When people consume information, they’re not concerned about the aesthetics and experience of getting to the content. People simply want to consume news and then get on with their life. If they could consume more information within a shorter amount of time, they would. So the problem that needs to be solved is not how experiential the consumption of news can be, it’s how can we make the consumption of information more efficient.

There are websites and apps that are already making progress with that problem. Flipboard provides an equally fancy iPad app, but is much more useful and efficient than The Daily. It acts as an aggregator of multiple news and social media sources, and then provides a simplified and condensed interface for quickly browsing and reading the content.

Flipboard Screenshots

Screenshots from the Flipboard iPad app

However, the ultimate experience for efficiently aggregating and consuming news content already exists. For the iPad it’s Reeder, and for the PC (including Mac) it’s Feedly. They provide the ultimate experience for news by providing a stylish and efficient UI, and the ability to have full control over the content you retrieve and read. Feedly actually takes it one step further by using an algorithm to provide the news stories it thinks you’ll find most interesting.

Screenshots of Feedly and Reeder for iPad

Feedly on left, Reeder for iPad on right

Premium content shouldn’t be tied to the app

The Daily wants its app to be the one source for your news. However, it wants to severely limit the news you get, and charge you for it.

If the content is good enough, people will pay for it. There are already news outlets that have been successful with this model. Salon, an independent news company, has been very successful charging $30/year for access to premium ad-free content.

Salon Home Page

Screenshot of Salon.com's home page

That fact reinforces what I think is the perfect model for consuming news on the iPad — RSS feeds coupled with Reeder for iPad.

The future of news on the iPad is as simple as making Reeder better, or someone making a better alternative. In every way imaginable, The Daily is a step backwards and was doomed to FAIL from the beginning.