Can Blendle style pay-per-article work for News in India? Or is it too early?

Over the weekend, I cam across Blendle , a dutch start-up that has built a news aggregation platform that allows users to read on a pay-per-article model. It has received early recognition and some financial support from the top publishing companies, such as New York Times and Axel Springer. It has also got the digital media world sit up and notice – after all with decreasing print revenues and increasing competition from digital media companies, aggregators and click-bait savvy upstarts, the traditional media companies are having a hard time monetize their content.

As someone with long standing interest in digital content – formats, creative tools, distribution tools and of course business models, AND a portfolio of apps that are trying to find our own answers to the monetization puzzle, I found this very interesting.

What if we took our news reader, inNews to a similar model?

We already use a virtual credit point model in our apps. In fact our credit points can be used across apps. Users can re-charge their virtual credit points through an in-app purchase of credits (from the store) and use it for transactions in our apps. Filmi Filmy (our hindi film songs app) allows users to store their playlists and share their playlists with others using the credit points. ThotOfU (our custom greeting card maker app) uses the credit points to purchase interesting pictures. We have demonstrated, although at a very very small scale that users are willing to buy credits and transact for these services.

What if we could offer the user seamless reading experience for detailed news stories against their virtual credits ? We could think of our credit points operating like a virtual currency for a digital content marketplace where you can buy pictures, storage, playlists, news and perhaps in the future any digital content for education, information or entertainment.

Its an intriguing thought. I will be discussing this with our developers and product team. If you have any ideas please feel free to share your ideas. I am painfully aware that India is a late bloomer in tech adoption, attitude changes and anything related to payments in India has a huge resistance. Yet, as someone who has always been at the leading edge of risk and ideas, I prefer to die by innovation than die without trying.

News Aggregation: It Should Be Processed Not Presented

Since the initial days of the smartphone/tablet revolution, reading news has been a popular activity via apps, mobile websites, SMS, social media mentions and instant message networks.

Most news organizations – both print and broadcast – have built their own apps, mobile websites and a host of aggregators have tried to provide their own abstraction and interpretation of news. Pulse, Flipboard were one of the earliest popular news aggregation apps.

Most news aggregators have systems to track and classify news into sources, categories and stories. Users are provided an option to browse across this classification. Some basic cross source, cross category access is provided through “related” article tags. But for most users, the workflow consists of selecting a source, category and story or category, source, story and getting to the detailed news.

I have always wondered why the aggegators present news with the source, category and story hierarchy when clearly there is merit in presenting news based on importance of the story/theme that the article covers. When something happens (reason for news story to be created) each news organization puts up its own version of the news story. Depending on the importance of that event, personality or issue the volume of stories covering that news  changes. An aggregator system should be able to look at the volume and momentum and present a ranking of news stories to the user – so that the user can also get a sense of the importance of the news story.

So As a user, I should be getting the top-most story, with all the related stories into a single view – irrespective of the source, so that as a reader, I can determine which all perspectives (sources) I want to read in detail. This will a) give me insight into the relative importance of the news and b) save me time from moving in/out of the source/category/story hierarchy.

This has been bothering me and so we decided to build an app to test this idea. Instead of an aggregator that “presents” you the news via sources, categories and stories, we built a solution that “processes” the news and shows you the top stories at any time. You can choose any category and hopefully in a future version, any keyword and the application will show you the top news for that selection at this time.

Here’s how this works:

1)      First we track news feeds, ie sources and cache it in our database. RSS feeds are the best source. We currently track about 1000 RSS feeds.

2)      Then we categories them according to the source or according to the Feeds.

3)      In our first step of “processing” we pick all the Articles of each category and make keywords from Title and Description of that article .

4)      Then we pick all the clusters of that category (In starting of that category if there is no cluster then we add those keywords to make a new cluster) and find similarity between old Cluster keywords and our new article keywords then we calculate Score’s for each matching ( Using Lucene tool )  & according to the Score’s we decide in which Cluster we have to add this article or we have to add a new. So, in effect we sort each story into a cluster. The cluster with the highest number of stories is most likely the hottest news event.

5)      Finally, the clustering is filtered according to time. We process stories from morning till afternoon; AND hourly updates thereafter to determine the top cluster at ay time. All the related stories from a cluster are shown with the latest article in descending order of time.

Essentially, our news application is telling the reader – here is the top story at this time and there are X related articles on this story, in the decreasing order of time. Now the reader can decide to read about the story either from the initial source that first reported it or the most popular source or the latest source or any other source that has the better worded title.

You can try this news reader on the Android Play Store. We have called it “inNews”. We are working hard to populate more feeds and build relationships with the news publishers so we can continue to innovate. Do download once and give it a spin – see how “processed” news changes how you think of news when it is “presented”.

Get it on Google Play

Why Filmi FIlmy?

Filmi Filmy

Filmi FIlmy App Icon

I love Hindi film songs. We have all grown up with Hindi film songs. Their glorious music, great lyrics and our popular film stars in their respective moods have had deep impact on many a generation of Indians. From your first love to your first heart-break; from fun with friends to solace in isolation; from family functions to social occasions, Hindi films have songs for everything under the sun.

My love affair with Hindi film songs started via radio and was fanned by TV – the very popular “Chitrahaar” show was a family favourite in many households. Like many of you, I instinctively memorized many songs and used to enjoy the popular song-chain game “Antakshari”. I even won a prize or two competing at college and school level.

Having been a tech-guy into film music, I had a big collection of MP3 songs, was one of the first users of iPod (thanks to my job with a US company) and an early adopter of streaming music apps. However, I always wondered why we could not have Hindi film videos on the phones – why only audio playback. The charm for me always lay in the video clips, coz what better way to relate to the emotions in the song than with your favorite actor bring it to life!

Having worked in the tech field, I was one of the early users of internet, wi-fi and YouTube. It always disappointed me as far as watching Hindi songs went. If you try to find a song in YouTube, it throws up tens of similar entries with same title from multiple sources. Some are bad quality, some are personal renditions and some are plain SPAM hiding behind a popular title to draw some traffic. Finding the right video can take more time than one has patience for.

A secondary problem is that Hindi songs are spelled phonetically using English language. Hindi words can be spelled differently by different people and the user is left wondering which spelling would get you the right response. As an example, try searching for “pyaar” in your YouTube application and watch how all songs with “pyar” are missing from the search. When the song collection is over 50,000 entries this can become frustrating as well.

And of course YouTube is the largest repository of videos in the world. There is so much content that it is distracting.

What I needed was a tool that would have a) ONLY Hindi film songs b) have a fast and efficient phonetic search mechanism that found all songs irrespective of how I spelled them and c) showed me the film clip in a single click. In short, I wanted a solution custom made for Hindi film songs that I could use when I was at leisure – in transit, at a hotel, on holiday and late evening so I could enjoy my Hindi film videos the way I wanted to.

So we built “Filmi Filmy”, our app for Hindi film song video playback. This app uses data from YouTube and a powerful phonetic search engine with a custom video player to cut out all the noise and get you the song clip directly. We also added a playlist module so you could choose songs based on film, singer, mood, themes and gorge on songs the way you love them. You could even become a curator, create a playlist, save it and share it with a friend – sending him/her your own Chitrahaar theme. And of course, since this was video playback, it made sense to integrate the app with Google Chromecast so you could flick the display to your large TV and enjoy the video with family/friends.

So here is what you can do with “FIlmi Filmy”:

You can browse, search songs, play videos and enjoy! You can also create playlists based on period, mood, singer, actor, film and store them in your cloud account. Just login and see all your favorite playlists from any device. Share your playlists with your friends and family – send your feelings across with music videos! After all, each Hindi song says something in glorious poetry.

* Search for a song by film name, year, singer, title
* Select up to 10 songs in a playlist
* Buy storage space and store playlists on cloud
* Share your playlists with your loved ones
* Access playlists from any device
* Share what you play on Facebook and Twitter
* Invite friends to use the app

Want to try the app? Download and check it out yourself  iTunes