INTERVIEW: Nick D’Aloisio, creator of Summly, on the latest changes to Yahoo News Digest

Callum Tennent
May 8, 2014

Today sees the launch of Yahoo News Digest for Android. The app, already incredibly popular on iOS, provides timely, concise breakdowns of the most popular news stories of the day. Digests are provided to you twice – once at 8am and once at 6pm. Each digest contains the seven most important news stories of the days, shortened into a more easily readable article. These stories are also supplemented with Wiki-style profiles of key figures, map pinpoints for featured areas, and related tweets from prominent commentators.

All of this is possible thanks to Summly, an app created by 18-year-old Australia-born Londoner Nick D’Aloisio. Summly is an analytical tool which take large bodies of text and condenses them into greatly abbreviated versions (which still make sense and retain the key points, of course). After attracting an awful lot of attention, and over $1M in funding from celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Fry, in March 2013 Summly was purchased by Yahoo for $30M. Nick D’Aloisio becomes one of the youngest self-made millionaires in history, and Yahoo gets the basis for what will become one of the most popular news apps on mobile.

Yahoo News Digest - Homescreen

We spoke with Nick about the new changes coming to Yahoo News Digest: “Development for the Android version was greatly expedited. I can’t say exactly how long it took since the start of development, but it was less than six months.

“The app is largely the same, bar some key UI changes. There’s a widget, which is beautiful, some slight changes to the UI to fit Android, and the font matches the Android system font.”

This is all good news for Android users, as a big part of Yahoo News Digest’s appeal is its smooth veneer. It injects a bit of style in to reading the news, making it an altogether more appealing prospect.

It’s not just Android users who are in luck though, as the app now also has two new editions – Canadian and International. Previously only tailored to US and UK users, YND will now produce custom digests for Canadian readers. As for the International edition, it may not function in quite the way you’d expect.

Nick explains: “What this means is that if you’re in, say, a Russian region, the app will recognise this. It takes your geo data and then works out what timezone you’re in, which it wouldn’t do before. This ensures that you always get your two digests at 8am and 6pm. The app will continue to search for the best stories and sort them for you, and then deliver you the most up do date digests possible when the time comes. It does focus more on a range of international news though, yes.”

Yahoo News Digest - Digest timer

So, could this be the first step towards true, fully-localised international editions?

“It’s obviously something we would look to in the future, but foreign languages are difficult with Summly. The way Summly is built, it’s for the English language. Foreign languages and foreign character sets are tough.”

Now that Summly is powering an app read by hundreds of thousands, is it possible for YND to be entirely automated?

“It’s a hybrid of editorial and automation,” says Nick, “I can’t say just how the split is divided, but theres editorial to ensure it’s all correct. A lot of the time, coding can summarise a piece so that it makes sense to the programme itself, but to a human reader is nonsense. So it’s important to have the editorial side. Yahoo News Digest is like Summly 3.0.”

Now that Android and iOS are covered, what about Windows Phone? The app has done so well on the two biggest mobile platforms, with a great deal of competition, wouldn’t it be beneficial to be a very big fish in a considerably smaller pond?

Yahoo News Digest - widget

“Speaking personally, I love Windows Phone” Nick says, “I think it looks lovely, and it’s design has been inspirational. I love how it takes cues from the 60’s Swiss school of design, and it looks great. Android and iOS are definitely the two biggest players though, and we’re on them now, and that was the aim.”

Take from that what you will, Windows Phone users.

Yahoo News Digest for Android is out on the Google Play Store  now, and if you already have the iOS version the update is rolling out today.

About the Author

Callum Tennent

International playboy/tech journalist.

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