News Aggregator SmartNews Shows Rapid Growth, Adds Local Channels

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SmartNews has come almost out of nowhere to become a leading news aggregation app in the US market. It’s also probably the most effective news aggregator I’ve seen to date (and quite a bit better than Google News).

Earlier this week SmartNews added local news channels to its many existing content sources, including TIME, USA Today, MSNBC, NBC News, AP, CNET, Quartz, LA Times, Atlantic, Reuters and many dozes of others. Local news is now available for 12 US cities to start, including: SF, NYC, LA, Chicago,  Washington D.C., Atlanta, Seattle and Boston.

Founded in Japan in 2012 and based on underlying search/web-crawling technology and machine learning, the site launched in the US in October last year. It has grown very quickly, albeit quietly, since that time.

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Dozens of news aggregation sites have come and gone in the past several years. Most have either pivoted or been acquired and then disappeared. Taptu, Pulse and Zite are three prominent ones among them.

Flipboard survives but its outlook is murky. Yahoo News Digest is a very nice app but incomplete. Facebook Paper seems to be a bust at this point.

My view is that SmartNews is the best of the lot out there today. I didn’t write about the app at launch because I was skeptical of yet another news aggregation app entering the market.

However after daily usage since October (second only to the NY Times in my case) I’m very impressed with its UI, usability and customization. I met with co-founders Kaisei Hamamoto and Ken Suzuki this week. The company is currently about 40 people, mostly Japanese engineers with few human editors, “curators” or designers.

Upon launch in the US last year, the company added Rich Jaroslovsky as VP of content. Jaroslovsky was the first managing editor of the WSJ online and founder of the Online News Association. He was also an executive editor at Bloomberg.

SmartNews has raised $36 million to date. It currently operates in Japan and the US and is poised to enter Europe. It’s different than Google News in that it does explicit deals with many of its content partners. In this sense it might be characterized as the anti-Google News.

In Japan the app has ads, which are either totally controlled by partners or if not subject to revenue sharing. There are no ads in the US but those will come in the future.

Despite the revenue and circulation declines of newspapers, Pew Research Center data show consumers continue to have a large appetite for news, though increasingly in digital form. Indeed, digital media have recently overtaken traditional news sources in terms of trust according to a global survey by PR firm Edelman.

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