Twitter is fast emerging as the go-to news source, with 1 in 10 Americans getting their news through the microblogging network, according to a survey. And the biggest news organisation on Twitter is undoubtedly Breaking News. Well, what started as a Twitter-only outfit has grown into a giant. And recently, they rolled out a whole new Web app, along with mobile apps for iOS and Android.
The new Breaking News 3.0 Web app has been completely redesigned and comes with a bunch of new features, like muting and saving topics, and a social element through ‘Whoa’. The iPhone app also has a cool Alerts feature to be notified of certain topics, which hasn’t yet been rolled out on the Web app. But the Web has the Maps interface for a look at the trending topics across the world. Let’s dive in…
The Breaking News website actually looks a lot like a Twitter stream—and understandably so, since each news item is the size of a tweet. Think of it as @BreakingNews on steroids. Each news item obviously links back to the original source, just like with Twitter, but here you also get a topic for each. Clicking on that topic will get you more items in the same topic, making it easier to find all the news about a particular subject.
And there’s another added benefit to topics. If you aren’t interested in a subject, you can just mute the topic so that no news updates about it are shown in your stream. That’s pretty neat because if you aren’t American, local US news might not be of much interest to you, and with a couple of clicks, you can get a more globally-oriented timeline of Breaking News.
Topics that you are interested in can also be saved, which does nothing more than highlight a news item in bold. If you are constantly checking Breaking News, this won’t add much to your feed; but if you check once in an hour or so, it’s much easier to scan through the feed to the items that matter to you.
The biggest or most trending ongoing stories at any time show up in the sidebar of Breaking News 3.0, giving you a snapshot of what’s important right now. Naturally, you can click on any of them to see all the news items around it.
A really cool feature here is that each topic comes with its own synopsis, so you immediately know why it’s trending. If available, Breaking News will also show a photo. For me, this is a major feature as my problem with trending topics on Twitter is that sometimes, I have no idea why they are trending in the first place—Breaking News 3.0 solves that with this feature.
One other option each news item comes with is “Whoa!” Basically, this is to Breaking News what Likes are to Facebook. Hitting that button will broadcast your reaction to a news item, and if many others agree with you, that will show up in the “Whoa” section, which you come upon after scrolling through the latest news.
This is one aspect of Breaking News 3.0 that really bugs me. There is an entire section for news with the most Whoa, but it takes a lot of scrolling to get to there. How difficult would it be to just add a button next to the “Now” bar to let me go directly to the Whoa section? Ridiculous.
But the scroll down is worth it because the Whoa section not only has trending news, but also a ‘Hot Media’ sub-section with the most-liked images and videos. News isn’t just about text after all.
The map is undoubtedly my favourite part of the Breaking News 3.0 app. Click the icon in the masthead and you get a map of the world with orange and blue circles in different parts. The orange circles indicate breaking news coming from those regions, while the blue ones signify Whoa! items. The darker the shade, the more number of news there is.
To read any of these news items, just hover your mouse over the circle. A small tooltip will show you the country’s name and the news item. Click it and you get all the news about that country. It would be nice if Breaking News could include topics as well, but maybe that’s asking for too much right now.
As I have already mentioned, the Alerts feature is only available for iPhone right now and will be coming to Android next, with no sign of when it’ll be on the web app. That’s something I could have really used, as setting up a few alerts could have always kept me updated about things I’m interested in.
Perhaps most weirdly, there isn’t a direct button to share any news item on social networks or through email. You can click the news item and then do it, but that in-between step is unnecessary when there is so much space available to put one in.
Finally, a way to sign into the app would be great so that you could sync your preferences across browsers or devices.
Despite the few shortcomings and missing features, Breaking News 3.0 is still the best news app around if all you want is a steady stream of the latest happenings in the world. The “Whoa!” feature is quite cool, as is the ability to mute topics. And the news map is just fantastic. Whether you already follow Breaking News on Twitter or not, the new Web app is worth making a part of your Internet habits.