Yahoo’s News Digest App: The Least Overwhelming News Source Ever

A no-overload, no-personalization news reader for the iPhone.

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Yahoo News Digest

Everyone knows why the Internet is the best way ever invented to get the news: It’s an endless smorgasbord of stories on every conceivable topic, easily personalized to your interests and available whenever you want it.

And then there’s Yahoo News Digest. The iPhone app, which Yahoo unveiled on Tuesday at CES, publishes two editions a day, like a newspaper: One at 8:00 a.m. and one at 6:00 p.m. Each includes only a handful of stories, and the ones you get are exactly the same as the ones that I get, with no ability to specify the topics you care about. It’s news in its most minimalist form.

News Digest gets its conciseness from Summly, the app which Yahoo bought last March for a reported $30 million, when its creator, Nick D’Aloisio, was just 17. Using Summly’s technology, it stitches together its stories from a variety of bite-sized sources: news articles, tweets, related graphs, photos, videos and links to other related matter on the Web.

D’Aloisio, who demoed the app for me at CES, made a passionate case for the idea of a news app which you can actually finish consuming. (News Digest even shows you which stories you’ve read, and displays trivia tidbits as a reward when you’ve completed all of them.) He says that the app will appeal to folks who are intimidated by the all-you-can-eat approach to news found everywhere else, and that even voracious news consumers might like it as a supplement to their other sources.

Will it find much of an audience? I’m not sure. Back in 2011, AOL gave a similar pitch for an iPad magazine app called Editions, which also provided a finite selection of content rather than an avalanche of it. Editions didn’t seem to go much of anywhere, and as far as I can tell, AOL has abandoned it. (The website’s still up, but the software is gone from the App Store.)

Still, if you like the idea of News Digest, you’ll probably like the product: It’s polished and fun to use. It’ll be interesting to see if it thrives just the way it is — or whether Yahoo, over time, starts adding in the sorts of features whose absence currently give this app its unique character.