Besides messaging, snapping photos, and checking the weather, news reading has become one of the top activities done on mobile phones. It’s so popular, in fact, that Apple is introducing its own native News app in iOS 9, due out this fall. But not without some competition in the marketplace. The latest contender to enter the arena is Wildcard, a news app with a unique look and feel that combines articles, photos and videos about the day’s most important stories and other subjects you care about.
The app itself is not brand-new, but is rather the latest incarnation of an older version of Wildcard introduced last winter. At the time, the startup, which is backed by $10 million from General Catalyst Partners, Lerer Ventures, Softbank Capital, SV Angel, and other individuals, was focused on building a new browser for the mobile age which took heavy advantage of the “card” format. This newer design pattern has become popular on mobile as a better way to showcase content like rich media, photos and videos on the devices’ smaller screens.
But, explains Wildcard CEO Jordan Cooper, also a partner at Lerer Ventures, the first version of the app was meant more as a proof-of-concept. The team wanted to determine the best way to showcase consumer web content on the phone to see how consumers would respond to apps that utilized a card-style design. They found that the majority of the app’s tens of thousands of early adopters gravitated toward using Wildcard for reading news and consuming media, as it turned out.
Seven months ago, Wildcard’s team began to develop the next version of the mobile app which would forgo the browser concept and instead focus on news consumption.
The new app offers a news reading experience that combines sources from thousands of publishers, grouping them according to the news story in question. Sources may include articles from newspapers and blogs, along with smaller sites and even video from sites like YouTube or Vimeo, for example. But unlike, say, the news app Circa (which recently shut down after only finding a “modest” audience), Wildcard isn’t focused on using an editorial team to summarize the news into bite-sized chunks – its team instead curates the selection of stories and sources presented to you.
But one idea it did steal from Circa is the ability to “follow” a story and receive push notifications when there’s been an update or new information released.
Explains Cooper, Wildcard’s curators are tasked not with telling you what story to read, but with weeding out the junk, the clickbait, and the noise. The stories are ranked based on a combination of their overall importance, objectively speaking, as well as how important they may be to you. That being said, the app isn’t meant to isolate you into a “filter bubble” where you only see the news that you like – a problem that many accuse social media of contributing to.
“It’s not going to give you just the stuff that’s perfect for you. We believe there’s a baseline of what’s happening in the world everyday that our curation wants to surface for you…then, in addition to that, we want to be really strong and deep in the areas you do care about,” says Cooper.
Before Wildcard, he adds, “some of our most active users were getting their news primarily from Facebook. We can do better than that.”
Wildcard still features the same fluid, card-like design of its predecessor, and users can share out collections of stories – as opposed to single URLs – to sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The app itself has been in private beta testing with 1,000 users, and has seen retention of around 40 percent during this time. Now it’s live on the App Store for anyone to try.
Wildcard 2.0 is a free download, but longer-term, the company could introduce an advertising model to generate revenue. It’s also working on a feature that would allow media and video producers to publish natively in the app.