Trond Werner Hansen, an app developer based in Bushwick by way of Oslo, Norway, is the creator of Kite, an app which he thinks could transform the way we digest current events on the web. But even though its vibrant interface and social network orientation had tech writers calling Kite “the Instagram of news,” Hansen doesn’t see his app as simply following in the footsteps of other social media giants.
“Things aren’t getting faster, they’re getting smaller,” Hansen says looking at his iPhone6. Because of the ubiquity of app-filled smartphones, Hansen recognizes the limited utility of web browsers. “I want the web on my phone for the content but I don’t need to go to Facebook or Twitter [on a browser] because I have apps for that,” he says, noting how dominant tech companies like these are big players in online news distribution.
To get away from the barrage of links that come with Twitter, Hansen began to devise Kite, which he calls “a new kind of experience for consuming content from the web.” That experience is pretty seamless at first. While browsing it, Kite starts to look like a database of different news apps, all of which are filtered into the app’s own interface, which distills articles on a vertical screen. The user can scroll down and read content from whatever news source they like, without getting redirected to a different website. Kite is basically a mobile trove of online news content, curated directly by which outlets you subscribe to.
Hansen’s ideas aren’t completely based on convenience though; his views on the Internet, and our current understanding of it, go much deeper. “The thinking of having something called news apps, is coming from our old way of thinking,” he says. For Hansen, content is free-flowing, and Kite is just a way to channel the never-ending churn of information on the web. To that effect, Kite could also present a way for people to absorb news in a medium completely separate from the Internet’s biggest content disseminators, Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook, for example, uses a complicated algorithm to control what users see in their news feeds. This kind of control over what people see and read, represents a problem, and presents the question of who really owns the Internet’s content. “You don’t want anyone to control [the web]” Hansen says, adding that “if Facebook or Apple were to control it, then you would have censorship… they’re proposing that they publish content from a platform that they own.” Experiments like this have largely failed though, as Facebook’s attempt at creating Facebook Paper, that company’s own news platform, quickly fizzled. Kite represents an alternative to the web giants though, in that control is only exercised by the user.
Though it might sound serendipitous, the app is still only in its nascent stage. During its beta launch at the Northside Festival (Note: Northside Media is the parent company of Brooklyn Magazine), Kite received about 10,000 sign ups, according to Hansen. But one aspect of the app is still kind of rusty: social curation. In addition to letting users choose which outlets they follow and consume, Kite will let users follow other users, to see what content their reading. For this, Hansen has big goals, asking “what if you could follow Obama and read what political articles he reads?” Admittedly, Hansen isn’t quite sure how “to build that structure” quite yet.
Kite has received about $500,000 in seed funding according to Hansen, but he’s still figuring out ways to make the app more viable. He notes that the couple thousand weekly active users aren’t quite enough to make the push into the app store official. But, even as Facebook launched another news project this year, and as Apple’s revamped news service aims to replace the iPhone newsstand this fall, Hansen still doesn’t feel he needs to put his pedal to the metal.
“Trying to build a social graph,” that optimizes user experience is Hansen’s primary aim at the moment, and he currently has no date for when Kite might officially progress past its beta stage.
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