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What is Kwik News?


Kwik News is an RSS news aggregator.

The slightly longer answer is that it is a service that monitors the public RSS feeds from a large pool of news sources and by tracking the 'trending keywords', allowing the user to follow what is being reported in the media for the current day.

You could think of it as a search engine for the current day's news and like any search engine does not host the original content, rather only providing the link to the original articles.  It brings together two of the more traditional internet services: the RSS news reader and the news aggregator.  While not unique in this approach, a fully accessible service focusing on the trending keywords targetted for the general public is less common.

In this post, I will talk a little about what an RSS news aggregator is and how it fits into the larger picture.

RSS

The concept of RSS goes back to an earlier time of the internet and sought to provide a means for websites to let users know of new content [1].  A website provides one or more documents publicly, announcing new articles and providing the basic 'metadata' for each article; at the very least a title and a link.  These documents are then updated periodically, typically on an hourly or daily basis, but this depends on the site.  From the user's perspective, they can then access these page via a program known as an RSS news reader, which generally keeps a small list of sites the user has registered an interest in and then regularly checks for new articles [2].  These articles are then displayed in a chronological list that the user clicks in order to view the original full text.

RSS reached its peak popularity around 2006-7, when it was supported by virtually every online news site.  However, the last 10 years has seen a relative decline and there are now many news publishers that no longer support it, though a majority still do.

The cause in the decline of RSS can be attributed to a number of reasons and is widely discussed online [3][4][5], but in my opinion was a mixture of the rise of social networking with people wanting to be able to engage with the articles through comments, something which RSS does not support.  Furthermore, the drive for online monetisation has lead to different goals from RSS.  It has become more important to keep control of how users view your content and so sites now wish to keep as much control as possible, either by keeping users on-site, or at worst locked within a very small number of content platforms such as Facebook.  This goes against the nature of RSS which allows people to find and access content from outside a site and is not particularity conducive for advertising.

In 2013, the Internet's most popular RSS feed reader, Google Reader, was discontinued [6].  While there are many other quality RSS feed readers, this probably represents where RSS left the main stream from the general public's perspective.  Despite this, it still remains as the best way for a website to announce changes of their content to users in an open manner.

Aggregator

In the early days of the Internet, before Google came to dominate search, there were many varied sites offering different forms of search functionality.  Among these early services were the news aggregators, which were specialist search engines providing sites where users could find and track news.  At the time there was no single clear way to search for online content and often search engines were more like portals attempting to provide access to all types content at once, including news, often fully hosting all the articles.  As the internet grew and more actual news sites went online, the news aggregator would instead just link to the news site, perhaps with a small description and an image.

Unlike an RSS feed, the aggregator monitors the website's pages directly and looks for any changes.  This is often achieved through web scraping the public pages, though if some agreement is in place then this may be done privately, perhaps through a specially provided API.  Whereas RSS news readers are often stand alone programs or apps, the aggregators tend to either provide a website for their clients, or in the case of business oriented services their own API.

Google News is probably the most well known news aggregator today and is integrated as part of every search returned from their main page.  Aggregators form an important role in linking news sites with readers.  Customers are able to search out the news that interests them and then follow up by reading the articles in depth.  By not hosting the stories themselves, it helps the news provider by redirecting customers onto their news sites to read the stories in full.  It also helps users by providing a more streamlined experience in locating news of interest.  However, this can lead to aggregators coming in between the interests of the users and the publishers.  Users want to find the news quickly and accurately, while news sites want users to remain on their sites as long as possible.  This has led to some tensions between aggregators and publishers.  This has been further complicated by the unethical business practices, in which some aggregators attempt to host the entire story stories on their sites, effectively stealing the content.

Relationship with Publishers

This tension has led to some publisher's seeing aggregators in a negative light.  They see them as simply stealing their content without providing anything useful in return.  As is often the case, the truth is more complicated. Without aggregators, news sites would have less traffic and of course, without publishers, the news would not be covered as it is currently.  Aggregators enhance the user experience by offering the potential to create a broader picture by the simple fact of covering multiple sources in a way that a single news provider simply cannot.

Over the years, there have been incidents between the two groups, though few have been more revealing as the early European attempts in making aggregators 'pay' directly for linking to articles through the introduction of 'link taxes'; first in Germany (2013) and then in Spain (2014) [7].  The response and repercussions were particularly revealing.

In Germany, Google News opted all publishers out of its platform, then forcing them to waive their right to the link compensation in order to appear, which many of them did after seeing falls in their traffic.  Alternatively in Spain, where it was not possible to renounce the link tax, Google News pulled out completely from the market, again with a result in reduced traffic flowing through to the news sites.  So when news aggregation is removed from a country, we see traffic to news publishers decline and when given the choice, they will potentially sign back up for free.

It is my personal belief that it should be up to the individual publisher as to whether they want their site to be part of any aggregation process.  The internet already provides this kind of control through various mechanisms, such as the 'robots.txt' file that specifies which parts of a site may be indexed.  Stronger controls are available by placing content behind a firewall and requiring a login to access.  Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with such a viewpoint and Europe is in the final stages of attempting to pass highly controversial legislation that would mandate link taxes across all of Europe.  I personally expect this will play out much the same as with previous smaller attempts, in that we will see either the content or the users being blocked in some form [8].  It is certainly the approach that I would take for Kwik News if these laws are finally passed.

So to put it all together, Kwik News is a news aggregator, but one that only uses the publicly accessible RSS feeds to source the news, rather than attempting to scrape the sites.  Using RSS limits the data to only that news sites are willing to make publicly available.  It provides essentially same service as a traditional RSS news reader, except covering a far larger range of sources, and in doing so provides users with an idea of what is currently being most reported in the world.  It does this by focusing on the currently most reported keywords in the last 24 hours as news is fleeting.  Given the complicated relationship with news publishers, Kwik News attempts to achieve this in an ethical way and only includes news sources that want to be included.

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