Fluent News: The First "Up-to-the-Minute" Mobile Newspaper

Last Updated Sep 28, 2009 3:51 PM EDT

Two weeks ago, when Google announced its "Fast Flip" service for aggregating (and monetizing) online media, a couple of us here at Bnet noted that Google had accomplished something that its major media partners like The New York Times and the Washington Post had not, and that was to provide a fast, smooth, user-friendly interface.

But try Fast Flip on a mobile device, and it's no longer so user-friendly -- rather, you'd probably want to rename it "Slow Flip."

Not to worry, because somebody else has come up with a better solution, and that would be Fluent Mobile, which launched late last year, and over this summer has soft-launched Fluent News, the first iPhone app that aggregates mobile-optimized news content from some three dozen major media brands into an "up-to-the-minute mobile newspaper."

Fluent News is free and is currently the top-rated news app in the Apple Store.

"We believe that accessing the news over a mobile device should be at least as easy and as good an experience as it is over a computer," Fluent CEO Micah Adler told me in a phone interview today. "But up until now, because of bandwith and other issues, it has been a pretty challenging experience."

The Fluent team attacked the problem of how to improve mobile news consumption with two technological initiatives. First, they figured out how to aggregate media content much as Google News would, but only those articles that have been specifically optimized for mobile platforms.

(This addresses one of the problems with Fast Flip on a cellphone: Because it displays articles that are web versions, so it takes an eternity to download and view over a mobile.)
The second technological breakthrough by Fluent is its "mobile content delivery" system. Because mobiles have to migrate between high-bandwith and lower-bandwith and through Internet dead zones, Fluent has foused on providing a seemless experience during all of those transitions.

While bandwith is high, the app is "pre-fetching" content and getting it ready for you to view whenever you're ready, even if by then you've lost all Internet connectivity. I experienced this myself the other day when I noticed an article link on Fluent News on an iPod Touch just as I got on an airplane, yet was still able to click through the headline and read the entire article in the app's integrated browser while flying across the country.

There is also a capability to email an article or to share it via Facebook or Twitter.

Adler says that Blackberry and Android apps are coming soon, but until then users can access Fluent News via its website where the content is all mobile-optimized, and therefore quicker to download and read than from Fast Flip or other news aggregators.

As for its business model, Fluent is already carrying some ads on the app (via AdMob), and Adler says the company is in discussion with several of the major media sites about a revenue split based on traffic referrals in the future.

"There are advantages to both of us, the media providers and Fluent, because we can target those ads," Adler notes. He also envisions affiliate marketing, lead generation and keyword ad links as all providing "enormous monetization potential" as this thing unfolds.

The media brands available currently include The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, ESPN, CNN, Fox Sports, and many others.

In the upcoming months, Fluent will unveil a premium version of the app, with customization features, and a subscription model. The company is currently funded by an angel round, which includes one major media company, among its early investors.

Related Links:
Google "Fast-Flips" News Media Into 21st Century
Google Fast Flip Becomes the News Stand, Pressure on Publishers
(Note: Thanks to Tim Inthirakoth for his help on this post.)

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.