Webpage Scratch

Can We Make Yahoo News Digest Even Better?

By Qing Li

Imagine this situation: When you’re on a deadline to write a story about China’s one-child policy, and you only need the basic facts. How many tabs will you have opened on your browser? What if you’re reading a breaking news story, but looking for extra background information? More contexts? How do you begin to search for that info?

Wouldn’t it be really handy if we can get short summaries of every news event we are interested in, but with a little bit more?

With this idea, two friends (@Faten Bushehri and @Atta Poku) and I pitched a startup idea yesterday, to our class called “Transformations in European Media, Journalism and Governance”, which is supervised by @Piet Bakker and @Yael de Haan. We were encouraged to share the pitch idea and hear what you think.

Inspiration: Summaly and Yahoo News Digest

“People have this information overload. They’re checking too many sources. They’re a bit tired of having to go through streams and streams of information, never having a sense of completion.” Nick D’Aloisio, Summly’s Founder

Yahoo News Digest example Source: screenshot
An example of Yahoo News Digest summary. Source: Screenshot

We were firstly inspired by Summaly, which was claimed to provide algorithmically generated summaries from hundreds of sources, using summarization technology. Summaly was bought by Yahoo! In 2013 and is now transformed to Yahoo News Digest.

The vision is to simplify how we get information, by generating a summary of any news event from many news sources. The idea fascinated us. Yahoo News Digest delivers around 10 summaries twice a day.

What if the topic you are interested in is not listed in the daily bundle? We think there is much more potential in the summarization technology behind it.

Our project, News Backpack aims to take “beautiful and concise summaries” onto the next level, by providing customized summaries with smart features.

Customized summary based on request

News Backpack is aimed to bring smart summaries of global news from anywhere at any time, with the underlying summarization algorithm as its basis.

On our platform, there is a search button for you to look for any story you are interested in, for instance, Paris attacks. The technology will pull in news feeds and articles from all news sources on the internet, as well as images, to compile smart summaries.

News Backpack Scratch
News Backpack smart summary scratch

A smart summary consist of four main features: fact gallery, photo gallery, reference list and metadata.

  1. Fact gallery
Fact gallery showcase
Fact gallery showcase

When the technology pulls in all the news feeds, the facts that are reported differently in the news outlets will be identified and highlighted in the summary.

When you click on the facts, it directs you to the fact gallery on the right. It shows you how these facts are reported differently. When you click on different links in the fact gallery, it directs you to the exact page.

  1. Photo gallery

Meanwhile, the summarization technology also pulls in all the images to the photo gallery.

  1. Reference list

All the news sources that been used will be displayed in the reference list.

  1. Metadata

Moreover, metadata section provides you the in-depth information, for instance, background, history, context and more.

Who are the target customers?

We think News Backpack is perfect for critical news consumers who are just interested in getting the scoop with extra details. But it also helps journalists, bloggers, freelancers, who want to write a story, and need us for the first help in background information.

Large news outlets can also benefit from News Backpack, to cater to their journalists and everyday work. It makes it easier and faster for them.

Also, larger corporations might be interested in our product, and want to buy the rights to provide smart summaries to their own audiences.

We hope to get revenue from the subscription of individual and organizations, the possible sale of rights to news agencies and large corporations, and donations.

Is it even possible?

“Can technology really make this happen? How does it work to tell the different reported facts?” @Piet Bakker raised this valid question after the pitch.

Unfortunately, we are not able to answer this question. There are not many sources revealing how the automatic summarization actually works for Summly and Yahoo News Digest.

But we think if it’s possible to generate summaries. There is definitely potential for them to open for users’ requests based on their preferences and interest.

We are eager to hear from all of you. Please let us know what you think about the idea by commenting or sending an email to @NewsNext at newsnextamsterdam@gmail.com.


Qing Li is a Chinese journalist currently completing a Master in Media and Politics at the University of Amsterdam. You can find her @qingliqing or Linkedin.