Brief Grief

Nick Hobbs and Andrea Huey:

We’re excited to announce that Brief is joining Twitter! Our team has always been inspired by Twitter’s mission to improve public conversation, and we can’t wait to work with the kind, brilliant folks we’ve met there. Together, we’ll do great things. Sadly, this transition also means that our work at Brief is coming to an end. The newsroom will publish our final news bulletins on July 31. […]

We founded this company to foster healthy discourse by rethinking the way we read the news. The only way we can tackle the world’s complex challenges is by doing it together. In this next chapter, we’ll continue our efforts to push the conversation forward, and we hope that everyone who believed in us will do the same.


Congrats to Hobbs and Huey (presuming this is a good outcome for them), but man, this is the second iOS app from my first home screen that Twitter has acquired and killed in the last few months. (The other was Nuzzel, which shut down in May, and which I continue to miss every day.)

Brief is an extraordinary app. It cost $5-6/month (it varied over the time I was using it), and you got about 5 major news stories a day. Each story was short — a neat summary with links to sources for more information if you wanted more. That’s it. It was like reading the front page of a good newspaper. Brief didn’t tell you everything — it told you the most important news, and that’s it. No needless notifications, and most importantly, no infinite scroll. Brief wasn’t designed or edited to keep you in Brief for as long as it could. Quite the opposite: Brief was designed and edited to get you in, get you up to date on major national and world news, and get you out. Brief is the only news app I’m aware of that gave you a sense of completeness — the point was to catch up, quickly, and be done. No ads. Just a fair subscription price (that I would have happily paid much more for.) For god’s sake Brief defaulted to not sending you any notifications at all. No notifications. They just assumed you’d open Brief when you wanted to see if there was fresh news. When’s the last time you saw a news app that defaulted to not trying to send you notifications, let alone not bombarding you with them?

Even the company’s name — Broadsheet — harkened back to the days of print newspapers and their finiteness. When you finish reading Section A of The New York Times, you’re done. You can stop, without worrying that you’re missing anything. Brief is like that, except just 5 or so stories per day.

Also, Brief is a beautiful app, designed specifically for iOS. It has a better and more iOS-like design and interaction model than Apple’s own News app. I don’t say this lightly, but its design was nearly perfect. I don’t know what Twitter plans to do with it, but given that Brief was pretty much the opposite of Twitter, experience-wise, I’m deeply pessimistic. Twitter’s apps have non-native designs and all try to keep you “engaged” for as long as possible.

I want more apps with a finite scroll, which respect, rather than seek to consume, my time and attention.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021