Meet Nick. Nick D’Aloisio. He’s 17, lives in London, and his new news app Summly is attracting quite a lot of interest over in the UK. It seems to me that most of the media coverage is because of Nick’s age than the app he’s created. So let’s take a closer look at that app and see what all the fuss is about.
Summly is a news summarizer. There’s an algorithm working behind the scenes to reduce longer news stories to their most essential facts. We’ve seen algorithms like this in the past, and their performance has been spotty, but Summly actually does quite a good job. Its summaries are readable and make sense. Each is indeed a pretty good summary of the story it came from.
Summly comes with a selection of preset topics, including US news, technology, sport, world news, and so on. These topics are helpful, but they only go so far. Chances are you’ll want to get Summly seeking out news on topics that really interests you. Scroll to the end of the topics menu, and you’ll see a friendly addition-sign icon. Summly invites you to “add any topic, person or theme”.
I tried it with a few, with disappointing results. “Lady Gaga”? Zero results. “Climate change”? Nothing. “SF Giants”? Zilch. Even after several hours.
Maybe I picked a bad day. Maybe Summly’s servers were overloaded with topic requests so soon after its high profile launch. Even so: disappointing.
That aside, I quite like what Summly offers, and the way it works. Flicking through a topic of stories is actually quite fun. The way the text section scrolls independently of the photo and headline above is a visual treat. Since everything’s already been downloaded to your device, it’s fast too. You only have to wait to see stuff if you slide your finger downwards to reveal the built-in browser and see a story in full.
Similarly, the share menu pops into life with a gorgeous little animation. It’s beautiful. As well as sharing elsewhere, you can save favorite stories for later – they’ll appear in a topic of their own, reachable from the main menu.
Summly’s various swipe controls aren’t very intuitive, but don’t take long to learn. Some of them could do with a bit of tweaking, though: opening the browser is done with a downwards finger stroke, which is very similar to opening the system-wide Notifications panel. Having opened the browser with the downwards stroke, it might make sense to dismiss it again with an upwards stroke, but that doesn’t work. You have to tap an x in a corner instead.
People have tried to summarize news before, and not always with great success. Summly does summaries well, presumably because its algorithm works better. The presentation of news is good, and helpful for people on the move and in a hurry. Some work to tighten up content availability and the user interface wouldn’t go amiss, but on the whole Summly as it stands is a good start.
- Source App Store