As the world moves into the mobile age, we aim and hope to have everything in that little device in our pockets. Just a couple of days back I was thinking about how powerful we have actually become with one device in our hands that can literally do the job of a number of gadgets that would fill a big room 15 years back.

Azhar Iqubal, Anunay Arunav, both from IIT-Delhi and Deepit Purkayastha from IIT-Kharagpur, have started News In Shorts, to bring that big papery newspaper to our pockets. These three young minds aim to take news reading to a whole new level by promising crisp news in less than 60 words. The only news that matters. Their mobile app for Android platform devices, available for free download on Google Play Store, gives you the top news, manually curated from various sources within 60 words. So you get updated about what’s happening around you and in the world just by spending a few minutes. Azhar, Deepit, and Anunay are on leave from college to pursue their entrepreneurial dream at News In Shorts. Azhar and Anunay were batch and branch mates in IIT-Delhi, got bitten by the start-up bug pretty bad, that’s when Deepit joined the party and their entrepreneurial journey began.

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In their exclusive conversation with LifeBeyondNumbers, Azhar, Anunay, and Deepit talk about their venture, how they started, their future plans and lots more… 

The Inception Of News In Shorts

news in shorts-lifebeyondnumbersBy the end of the second year in college, we were completely and totally bored. There was no challenging work as such. You’ll have to mug up what the teacher says and then only you could get the good grades and all that. From the very beginning, we knew we wanted to do something on our own. So we thought about doing something that’s challenging and thus, interesting. Somehow we felt that there’s lots of scope for innovation in the media sector. So we explored and analyzed the media sector for one and a half years.

To start with, none of us are news readers at all, except for Deepit, who you can say is a little bit of a newsreader. So sometimes when we are sitting with our peer groups, we realized we are not aware of a lot of things going around us – like the current Home Minister of our country (laughs…). And Anunay didn’t know the full form of ODI (laughs…). That’s how unaware we were in terms of regular news. Then as we began exploring we found out there were a lot of people in our peer groups itself who were not aware of what’s going on in the world besides the technology sector, that too in computer science which happened to be their branch. Then we wondered why was that the case. We saw some of the major news websites and found them cluttered with information and too heavy for someone who is not that much a newsreader. That we felt was a repulsive factor that kept the young and restless youths away from the news.

Another reason we started was the finding that today’s young generation has gone mobile. They have literally moved from desktops, laptops to phones and tablets. So if you see, the lengthy articles of say 1000 or more words are not really comfortable to be read on a mobile device. And the attention span of people has shortened to quite an extent. From sports to entertainment – we want crisp and short content. The success of the T20 cricket format is the biggest example. In news also, most people read the headline, see the picture attached to the particular and maybe go and read the first 2 or 3 lines, and that’s it.

So we thought of a concept that will cater to this exact need, which will give you a summary of what’s going on in the world if you spend 5 minutes in the day. Our target is those people who are the light news readers, who would not want to spend more than a few minutes and get updated. We don’t want our user to spend more than 15 minutes on this.

So in April, we launched our product News In Shorts, a mobile app that’s available for free download on the Android Marketplace – Google Play. Our basic idea is to solve 3 major problems that we saw in the media sector today.

#1 – Articles are too lengthy – not today’s generation.

#2 – The articles are more often than not biased according to the writer’s opinion. So, you could say, these articles state opinions rather than pure facts.

#3 – No personalization – if I go to a news website, I have to scroll through 500 articles just to find 10-15 articles of my interest. There’s no system to feed a reader with just what he/she wants to read and nothing else.

Our solution:

#1 – We promise each news article to be not more than 60 words. Yes, we give news in just 60 words and not more than 25-30 articles a day. We curate news from all over the world and give you what’s most important. You read that much, and you’re done for the day. If any particular news excites you and wants to read more in detail, the original link is available from where it was curated. Click on that link and you will have the detailed news to go through for your satisfaction.

#2 – We are trying to solve the second problem by stating just facts, and make the posts as less opinionated as possible. These might not be as interesting to read as the other articles, but these are pure facts, and leave the opinion for the readers to make.

#3 – We are currently working on the third problem, which is of personalization and most probably we will roll out our personalization in a couple of weeks. We have almost developed a system where the app will automatically understand your reading pattern and accordingly give you news as per your interests.

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A snapshot of News In Shorts App

We have tried quite a few different things before starting News In Shorts. And with News In Shorts, we launched our Facebook page in April and started sharing 60-word news articles. And that really caught on. Within a few days, we launched the website. And after a month we launched our prototype app with some beta users and got the feedback. And then we launched our final app on the 4th Of September, 2013. After the launch of the prototype, we needed some funding and so we approached a lot of investors and got chosen by T Labs, a Times Internet Ltd. initiative, and that has really helped.

We have almost 4000 downloads since we launched our final app on 4th September this year. From the last couple of weeks, we have been getting close to 150+ downloads a day. An initial couple of months were focused more on getting the app built properly. Now we are looking at proper channels of marketing and promotions.

The Challenges

The biggest challenge or rather the question we faced was, “Can you scale?” Everybody we met for the first time thinks we must be computer science geeks from IIT and that we are doing it algorithmically. But we are doing it manually. If you do it algorithmically, it will only pick up the best sentences of the article, it will not bring out the essence of a particular article in 60 words. So it has to be done manually. So we were asked how are we going to do it for thousands of articles. But the point is – the user-base we are targeting doesn’t even need more than 20 articles a day. Even if we do 100 articles a day, it will suffice at least for the initial run. And moreover, if the big media houses are run manually, why can’t we run it manually in the longer run.

As a reader, he or she also needs to surf through manually in all these websites to find something to read of his/her interest. So instead of the pain of manual surfing being taken by the readers, we would love to give them everything ready, fresh and crisp, on their plate.

InShorts – The Future

We are planning to launch a service with our app that will give news in audio, and that too depending on how much time the user has to spare. For example, someone has just come back from a holiday and has not been updated on what’s been happening in the past week. So he will just turn on the app and tell the app that he has 15 minutes, which says is the driving time to his office. The app will give him the top news of the last week that will be done in the 15 minutes time-frame he has given. And it will be in audio. He can just plug in the earphones and listen to all the updates of the past week as he drives to office and as he reaches his office, he is updated on all the news that he has missed out on while he was holidaying.