There's a new app available from Microsoft called Social News. It seems like a worthwhile concept, but unfortunately, it's all but guaranteed to fail.
Right now, the app is in beta. The Windows Phone store describes it, "Social News is a service designed to help you to create and share interesting stories. Report interesting local events or cool new things to your friends, people around you and beyond together with our professional media partners."
The app lets users create and publish their own news content — including photos and videos. There are supposedly also some professional media partners that will issue requests for stories on breaking news, so the story you create in Social News might be shared through news media channels. In addition, Social News gives users the ability to find local events and stories through a map view or easily view the most liked and commented stories.
All of that sounds pretty cool. So, why is Social News doomed to fail? There are a couple reasons.
First, all of these features and functions should sound familiar. Social News is attempting to do essentially the same thing we already use Twitter and Facebook for. Twitter has established itself as the primary means of quickly sharing breaking news, and the Trends feature on the Twitter website enables you to see what topics are hot in your area or among those you follow. Facebook fills a similar niche when it comes to posting photos, videos, and sharing information about local events and news with others.
CNN is one of the largest news networks in the world, and it already does the citizen journalist thing through its own channels. The CNN website and mobile app invites users to contribute stories and seek their 15 seconds of fame. CNN also posts iReport assignments to invite submissions on specific topics it wants to cover. Of course, this is just one example — many other cable, network, and local news channels now offer similar programs to allow average citizens to be armchair journalists.
Aside from going up against Twitter, Facebook, CNN, and others, the other problem facing Social News is its very limited availability. It's a Windows Phone app, and the most recent data from NetMarketShare pegs Windows Phone with just over 2% market share among mobile operating systems. That means that even if every single Windows Phone owner downloads and uses Social News, the stories it reports, and the trends it tracks, will only represent 2% of the world.
There's one additional problem with Social News, but it's a problem with the concept as a whole. Social media and mobile devices have become a powerful force for sharing breaking news and exposing stories that might not otherwise have been reported at all. The flip side to that value, though, is that we are inundated with reports from amateur "journalists" who lack credibility and do not properly research what they're reporting. The net result is more sensationalism than news.
Then we throw in the social networking component. The social networks rely on algorithms, which are designed to show us what we like or what's hot. It's easy to feel like the stories we see on Twitter or Facebook are the most important things happening, because it's all we see — but what we see is a self-feeding cycle of what we want to see in many cases.
But, I digress. Whether or not citizen journalists and social media are good, bad, or indifferent to the reporting of news in general, the Social News app from Microsoft isn't likely to even become a part of that equation — that is, unless Microsoft also makes it available across Android and iOS. There's too much competition out there, and Windows Phone is not a strong enough mobile platform from which to stage a coup.
Which news app do you use and recommend above all others? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.