Tim's Weblog
Tim Strehle’s links and thoughts on Web apps, software development and Digital Asset Management, since 2002.

“iTunes for news” – first impressions of Blendle in Germany

You have probably heard of Blendle, the promising “iTunes for News” startup from the Netherlands that’s backed by the NYT and Axel Springer. They’re launching in Germany on September 14th. I’ve been a fan of the Blendle idea for a long time: effortlessly buying print articles from a central “online kiosk”, with an equally easy refund option if the article wasn’t worth its money. So I was extra happy to be able to try out the beta version. Some first impressions:

The conversational onboarding process is phenomenally well executed. (Just what I expected after reading about Blendle product manager Rick Pastoor’s public 30 onboardings in 30 days project.)

I found almost no glitches in the beta; just two Dutch-labeled buttons in the otherwise fully localized credit card payment process – and some missing words in articles, as reported by Felix Schwenzel.

Like other beta testers, I dislike the fact that a link to an article on Blendle (i.e. a Blendle link shared on Twitter) immediately shows the full article and makes me pay for it. Yes, I can easily get a refund, but it makes me think twice before I click on a Blendle link, and it keeps me from sharing Blendle articles. Please show an article preview instead, ideally in the context of the printed page so I get a better feel of what to expect.

I often don’t know what kind of article to expect, because except for the browse view that shows previews overlaid on the newspaper or magazine page, I have no idea how long the article is from looking at its preview. Please include an indicator of the article length (number of words, or reading time). And the publication date.

What I find problematic is that Blendle makes me pay for articles which I can read on the publication’s site for free. I totally understand the reasoning, and I don’t mind paying some extra pennies to save journalism from time to time, but it’s still kind of sobering to come across the free article on, say, zeit.de after I paid for it on Blendle. And to me, it’s a hurdle for sharing – I don’t want my friends complain about me making them pay for something they could have had for free. (Users love products that make them feel smart, not dumb.) Blendle, please make publishers send you a daily-updated list of articles that they’re giving away for free, and link them from your article preview (“Read it on zeit.de”).

Finally, something I’m dreaming of: Topic centric news presentation. Here’s an older blog post (in German) outlining the idea. Articles I’m willing to pay for are often about a topic I’d like to read more about, or even want to monitor to get notified when new articles appear. (I love the Blendle Alerts functionality, by the way!) Auto-generated “related articles” won’t cut it, I’m sure – it takes (machine-assisted) human curation to link all the good stuff to the appropriate storylines. And as a reader, I want all the relevant articles in one place – not just the for-pay print articles, but also free online articles and blog posts. This probably doesn’t fit in with Blendle’s business model, but it’s something I’d love to help make happen!