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Apple's News app in iOS 9: All the news that fits, they print?

Glenn Fleishman | June 12, 2015
When Apple unveiled the News app in the WWDC keynote on Monday, my first reaction was glee. As a past participant in its Newsstand experiment, which is probably the best way to describe it, the News app had several characteristics that made it seem far superior for many purposes.

Unfortunately, it's all push. Apple is relying on machine learning to sort incoming articles into a million search terms and categories. Machine learning relies on massive datasets that allow neural-network software to be trained in subtleties and pull out patterns it can apply. Such approaches underlie an increasing amount of our automated interactions, as with Google Now and Siri.

Apple announced a list of initial partnerships with media companies but stressed "indie" publishers would be included as well, perhaps trying to conjure images of big record labels and inde labels as a parallel. The web is enormously more diverse, however.

The initial documents about News Publisher, Apple's name for its inclusion program, allows submissions via RSS feeds, with the requirement that a site have at least two sections. (Who this weeds out, I don't know. Blog software that offers distinct feeds by category seem to apply.) Apple is clearly spidering RSS as well, given that it offers an opt-out option.

Not every publisher will want to create an iCloud account and manage submissions through Apple's process, whether for fuss or a disagreement with the terms to which it needs to agree to be included. Some will opt out from principle as well. The long tail of sites that are routinely updated and read by millions of people in small numbers will neither bother to opt in nor be included in Apple's sweeps, unless Apple plans to be quite a bit broader than it's hinted at.

News is a gatekeeper, and we are all wise — whether publications, bloggers, readers, or users of social networks — to be skeptical of those who set themselves up that way, no matter their track record. We have Apple-that-runs-the-App-Store, rejecting software that too closely competes with its own or through an extreme interpretation of a content rule doesn't pass review.

We have Apple-that-runs-a-podcast-directory, which seems to include everything submitted through a simple process (though it wrote its own extensions to RSS particular to iTunes to which we have to conform). The only requirement is that material that's deemed mature by its description should be tagged "explicit" either for an entire podcast or for particular episodes.

And we also have Apple-that-runs-iBookstore, which rejects books that link in any fashion, even as a mention in an author's biography, other bookstores.

Which Apple will review publisher submissions?

The fine print

I don't believe News has the potential to become so powerful and expansive that it shapes what a substantial portion of people read, even when, as with iBooks, it later comes to OS X, and potentially pushes headlines to the Watch. Nothing in News is exclusive, but it's also not expensive.


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