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Help Us Improve Snackr, "The Pandora for Audio News"

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Shoutout to Step2! Thanks for letting us take part in the launch of "Step2 Startups!"

Snackr is an iPhone app that is Pandora for audio news--think Siri if she were your own personal news anchor! Snackr tells you the news that's important to you, all in "bite-size." But it's not just about Syria and elections, Snackr is about you. Your life is what is news to you—your friends’ birthdays, weather in your area, sports scores from your favorite teams, horoscopes and more.

Snackr is personalized audio news in bite-size. We’re the audio equivalent of scanning headlines. 20-30 second news bites that give you all the news and none of the fluff. Users can favorite articles they find interesting, which are automatically emailed to them to read in-depth later.

Video demo

Download here

We've recently launched our product and were featured on the app store. Now we really want to refine the product and make sure its truly meeting the needs of our users.

We'd love to know from the Insight & TechDirt community:

  • Does this solve a need for you? If so, what need?
  • Does the UI work well to address that need for you?
  • As a user, how bothered are you by apps that ask you to "Connect with Facebook?"
    • Currently the only way for users to sign-up for a Snackr account is through Facebook. This allows them to create custom channels and get a daily greeting that tells them their friend's birthdays, the weather, and more.
    • We do allow users to use the app without registering but they can't customize and don't get the daily greeting.
    • We've received some bad feedback about this from certain users, but we'd like to determine if it's from the vocal minority or not.
    • There's a lot of benefit from having our userbase connected to FB in terms of social features, and we don't want to lose that.

 

Thanks so much!

Jason

CEO & Co-founder of Snackr

 

initiated Mar 12, 2012 in Startups by Jason Tongbai (220 points)   1 2 3
edited Mar 13, 2012 by Jason Tongbai
   

5 Responses

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I'm (currently) an Android guy so I haven't actually tried out the app - but my initial reaction to the video is that it's very, very cool. And yes, it does seem to solve a need for me, which I'll try to explain here:

I've never been much of an audio/video news consumer online - it actually frustrates me a lot when I see a headline that interests me, and click through to discover that it's a video or podcast with no transcript available. This is because I like to consume news at my own pace: some articles I'll sit and read thoroughly, some I will skim until I find the part that interests me, some I will leave open and jump in and out of throughout the day - so audio news has never really appealed to me, because the recording sets the pace, not the listener. Snackr, however, seems like it solves this problem: breaking everything down to 30-second chunks, streamlined and organized, with the ability to drill deeper or skip ahead - that puts control back in the hands of the user. Basically, reading news is active, and listening to news is passive, but Snackr creates a middle ground where you get some of the benefits of both - and that's awesome.

The Facebook aspect is not a big deal to me (I use Facebook to log into lots of things these days - the convenience gradually beat out most of my concerns about privacy) but I can see how it would frustrate some people. Expanding it to allow more login methods - Twitter, Google - might help solve the problem. I know there are some people who hate connecting via another service, but I think they are hugely outnumbered by the people who hate signing up for new accounts in every app they want to use. So my guess is that the complaints you've received are indeed a vocal minority - but I can't be sure.

There's one feature that crossed my mind which would make a fantastic addition: an alarm-clock mode. I'm not sure how easy this is on iOS, but I use an advanced alarm app on my Android phone that gives me all sorts of cool options - like speaking the weather to me on wakeup, and such. But building a function like that into Snackr would be very cool - plenty of people already wake up to news radio, and a custom audio news feed would be even better.

In typing that, another thing crossed my mind: is there a traffic aspect to Snackr? I gave up my car years ago, so I don't have perfect insight into this, but I suspect that drivers are going to be a big chunk of the users for Snackr, since that's a time where audio news is most useful. In the same way that it opens with the day's weather, it would be neat if users could set their route to work and have it open with traffic reports as well.

...and I don't want to belabour the point but: Android me too, please :)
response added Mar 15, 2012 by Leigh Beadon (2,650 points)   5 14 22
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I'll kick this off...  I haven't been able to test the app directly as I'm an Android guy and it appears this is iOS only.  I'll say that I'm not a huge fan of apps that require Facebook connectivity, but mainly because I'm not sure what they're going to do with it.  But, it's not a dealbreaker.

As for the key product: for me, everything comes down to execution.  I'm a voracious consumer of news and information and am always interested in ways that would make me a more efficient news/information consumer.  But there have been lots of attempts to do that and they rarely seem to work for me.  I'm not entirely sure how you figure out what's most relevant to people, but getting that right is going to be the key.   You use the Pandora analogy, which is good, but it's worth noting just how much work Pandora put into the Music Genome Project before launching.  They were able to super-finely-slice music, rather than go on broad themes.

The second thing that's really important to me is being able to save/email stories, which is definitely included in the app, but if I'm on the go, it would be nice if there were some ability to "star" or "pin" key stories via voice command which could then be sent to me as an email after my 5 minute update.  Thus, if I'm driving to work or something and I hear a few key things I want to follow up on, when I get to my desk I have an email with all of them ready to go.  That would be cool.  Similarly voice commands to vote up or down stories would be similarly useful...

Separately, is it definitely set to a 5 minute update?  I could see value in flexibility there.  I may want a 1 minute update or a 15 minute update depending on the situation.

Overall, I think the UI (from what I've seen) looks good.  What it comes down to is how well it really does in slicing the news I like.  I've actually found that Summify is pretty good at that via Twitter, so I wonder if you might be able to build on what they've done.  If I could use this as a verbal Summify... I'd probably find that really useful.

Oh, and finally: Android me, please.  :)

response added Mar 14, 2012 by Mike Masnick (23,010 points)   52 99 160
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I am a iOS users but I do not use applications that require a facebook login. Just a personal choice I guess I gett too many application requests on facebook and do not need another platform to manage my applications in.

I also like the Pandora analogy as I would want an IOS app that would consolidate my news into what I am interested in. Also with the ability to pull news from obscure niche sources that I might now know about. I am a big Science and Technology news junkie. There are way too many sources for me to check every day. I just skim though a custom rss feed and hope to find something I am interested in enough to read fully.
response added Mar 14, 2012 by James Litwin (370 points)   2 3
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I've played around with Snackr a bit now... so I'll start with answering the questions posed before I start making my unsolicited suggestions.

 

  • Does this solve a need for you? If so, what need?

I generally use my iPhone instead of my car radio so that I can catch up on podcasts while I'm driving. So I could see myself using this app on occasion (maybe more often if I could organize podcasts with it, too.) I might also see this app being useful as a low vision aid -- but the interface isn't really too friendly for people who have reduced vision.

  • Does the UI work well to address that need for you?

While I'm driving, I don't really want to look at my iPhone's screen at all, but the UI for this app relies on the touchscreen far too much for my driving safety. When the description said: "Think Siri..." -- I was expecting a voice-controlled interface, where I could say, "Next Story" and Snackr would skip ahead. I thought this might be a iPhone-based version of speech recognition in systems like Ford Sync, but I don't think that's true (unless I've missed something).

  • As a user, how bothered are you by apps that ask you to "Connect with Facebook?"

I really don't like connecting apps to my Facebook account -- especially when I see the warnings that apps can post to my Wall on my behalf and do things that I don't necessarily want apps to do for me. Is there a particularly good reason for requiring a Facebook account? I'm not 100% clear on how my Facebook info benefits my Snackr personalization (other than it pulls my name, so that it can greet me with "Hi Mike"). Will Snackr start serving personalized ads based on my Facebook likes? Will it just tell all my friends when I use Snackr? Or will it start telling everyone I know that I listened to a particular story? These are the kinds of issues that could really annoy users, especially if it's not clear when these actions will be done.

My other random comments on Snackr:

• The text-to-speech is pretty good, but automated speech technology (in general) still has a way to go before it's really on par with the way real humans talk. (Is there a reason why the default voice sounds British?)

• I think there could be some nicer ways to skip forward and back a few seconds -- in a TiVo-esque way. One benefit of not listening to "live broadcasts" is that you should be able to skip around and get the last sentence repeated, in case you missed what was just said.

• The selection of channels seems a bit limited, but I'm sure that must already be on your product roadmap. 

• I didn't see a way to limit the news to "just headlines" -- and I was somewhat annoyed by stories that simply re-stated the headline and didn't provide further information. If the summary is no better than just reading the title of the story, then give me a way to just get the headlines.

• The UI isn't a "fully audio" interface, so it seems like it's missing a total commitment to audio because it doesn't accept voice commands. On the other hand, the visual UI isn't complete either because I can't read the full headline of each story even though the screen real estate is big enough to accomodate several full headlines. The overall UI is decent, but I can't say I'm fully satisfied when I'm using it. 

• The process of creating a personal channel seems almost unnecessary (perhaps because of the limited selection of sources shown to the user). I think I might prefer a personalized channel that was "automagically" generated based on the stories I liked/shared/etc in the past. The "Pandora for audio news" description isn't obvious from the way personal channels are created by users (at least not to me).

Those are just my first impressions after playing with it for about 10 minutes. 

 

 

response added Mar 15, 2012 by Michael Ho (2,370 points)   2 14 27
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I was an avid user of snackr. Used it every morning as I got ready. The app appeared to have a glitch so I deleted it and now I want to reinstall, but is not in the app store. What happened to it?
response added May 22, 2012 by Jake Levine (140 points)   1

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