I’ve been playing with Fluent News on the iPhone for the last day, and consider it a fine first effort as a news reading app. However, when it comes to sharing the news stories you’re most interested in, it falls short.
On my iPhone’s (s aapl) first Home page, I have readers for the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and AP Mobile. I may very well be able to replace them all with Fluent News. It culls news from a myriad of sources’ mobile sites and aggregates them into its page views. By default, you see Top News, but are only two taps away from other categories (e.g., U.S. News, Business, Sports, etc.).
I’m impressed with the speed of the app, as it does most of its work in the background. I’m also impressed that it shows only one headline for a given major story, and then adds a button for “related” stories that lets you see other sources’ stories. This keeps the primary lists short, yet still allows you to see full coverage. And all from one app. It’s a very good idea, and for reading purposes is well implemented.
There’s an ad at the bottom of the first page of links, but instead of being stationary, it scrolls with the page, so the majority of the time you don’t see any ads when reviewing headlines. When you click on an article to read it, you see exactly what that particular source’s mobile news looks like. This means articles do not display consistently, but only because, say, the NYT mobile format does not look like CNN’s; it’s not a bug in the program. By grabbing these sources’ already-formatted data, it keeps things fast.
Finally, the data when pulled down is local to the phone, so you can read it even when not on a network (though of course you won’t pull in later data until connected). All in all, the reading experience on this thing is very good, and I like the idea of replacing several icons with just one on my Home page.
So you’ve read a great story and want to share it with your friends/family/whatever. Fluent News allows this, but it falls down here. The app has ties to email, Twitter and Facebook.
For Twitter, go into settings and enter your account information. Then, when reading an article, click the Share button (you get all three choices) and click Twitter. What happens is that a tweet is composed for you, and all you can do is say OK or cancel. You don’t get to write the tweet, or modify it any way. Did you want to quote the article in your tweet, or shorten the URL? Too bad.
Clicking the email button transfers you to the email app. Here, at least, the pre-written text can be modified, but it leads to another issue with Fluent News’ sharing: Its article reader is “dead.” It’s a read-only environment. Click a link? It goes nowhere. Click and hold a picture to save it? Nope. Copy and paste? Nope. So even with an email there’s no way to quote from the article, or do anything else.
The above reader limitations wouldn’t be bad if the reader had a button to open the article directly in Safari, but for now it has no way to do so.
And the above isn’t even the worst part. I haven’t yet discussed the URL it sends. You might reasonably expect it to be a URL for the article you’re reading, but no. Instead, it’s a link to a Fluent News page that contains a link to the article you’re reading, and in some cases an ad for downloading the iPhone app (as if you only share articles with iPhone users).
Frankly, lots of people I share with are not going to get this. If they get an email saying this is a great article to read, and then click the link only to see a Fluent News page of links, they’re going to reply to me that I must have sent them the wrong URL because it isn’t the article I mentioned. I don’t see why Fluent News has to turn sharing a link into a page hit/ad for their site.
So how do I get around this?
- Email the link to myself.
- Click the link in the email.
- Click the link on the resulting Fluent News web page.
- Now I have the article in Safari, and can interact, email or Twitter as I normally would.
That’s quite a bit of extra work, but at least I know everyone will get a link that takes them directly to the article I’m raving about. Well, the mobile version of the article I’m raving about, which looks pretty weak in a desktop browser.
In some cases, the mobile page allows you to select the “normal” view, in which case that would be step 3.5 above. But in the example shown here, I don’t have the option.
If you don’t share lots of links, or are fine with pre-written text and a detour through a Fluent News web page to get to the article, or have no desire to interact with an article you’re reading, then none of this matters to you. For me, I’m using the reader, but will take the workaround above any time I decide to share a link, and hope Fluent News will save me a lot of trouble by adding a button to open the current article in Safari. And do it soon.
Fluent News is available in the App Store for free.