Kinzen app from ex-Storyful chiefs and DCU alumni goes live

Richard Herlihy 

Kinzen boldly promises not to “harvest [members’] browsing histories” and to free users from “echo chambers of their social networks”.

A new Dublin-headquartered app bidding to disrupt online news launched on iPhone devices on February 7th.

Kinzen was formed by Storyful founder Mark Little and former Storyful managing editor and DCU alumna Áine Kerr in 2018 to help put users “in control” of their daily news routine.

“The positive response to the features of the app has been overwhelming, in the most positive way possible,” Little told The College View. “Our goal was to show straight away how easy it was for people to take control of their news routine and that has really resonated.”

The app pairs personalisation with an ad-free model powered by artificial intelligence and community curators in return for a monthly fee.

“No one needs more news. What we desperately need is a more productive experience of news,” wrote Little, a former RTÉ journalist and Twitter Ireland boss, in a Medium post announcing Kinzen’s launch.

He argues that tools already exist to regulate sleep, exercise, and mental health. “There are apps for all of that, offering pathways to daily habits that add value to our life.”

“Why not news?”

The launch comes as Apple also announced its own subscription ‘Netflix for news’ app which will see a 50/50 revenue split with news publishers. While Kinzen is currently free to download, the basic version comes with limits, and the full range of Premium features will set users back €4.99/month or €49.99/year.

Kinzen is joining a crowded marketplace in which, apart from social platforms, several apps already provide personalised news such as Nuzzle, Flipboard, and those of news publishers.

Though Kinzen is only available on iOS, the creators are promising an Android version within six months of 2019.

Kerr, Kinzen’s Chief Operating Officer and a graduate of DCU’s MA in Journalism programme, told Silicon Republic that her experiences at Facebook played a role in the creation of Kinzen.

One particular concern was research suggesting that many consumers feel “worn out” by the news cycle and concerns over advertising and privacy. By contrast, Kinzen boldly promises not to “harvest [members’] browsing histories” and to free users from “echo chambers of their social networks”.

Dr Dawn Wheatley, an Assistant Professor at DCU’s School of Communications, told The College View that Kinzen “has the potential to be a really great service”.

“I think the kind of user it will attract are those who really want to stay up-to-date on content from a wide range of sources, but sometimes feel overwhelmed and unsure of what sources they can trust,” said Wheatley.

A key challenge for Kinzen, Wheatley said, is whether or not the app will show users content that they would not normally seek out. “There is a risk that it further diminishes that opportunity for serendipitous discovery, which I think can be a real shame in this hyper-customised online environment we exist in.”

Head of UCD’s School of Information and Communication Studies Dr Eugenia Siapera, said that a slew of factors are creating demand for such an app. She points to issues like information overload, personalised news feeds controlled by opaque algorithms, and concerns over accuracy.

“Most [people] feel very put off by adverts […] they consider harvesting their personal data is at best annoying and at worst exploitative,” she said.

And unlike in an earlier era, Siapera said the market has now “matured with more and more people used to paying for services online through subscriptions, such as for example Spotify and Netflix”.

However, Siapera suggests a final note of caution: “On the other hand, hyper-personalised news apps such as Kinzen risk the fragmentation of the public sphere into even more fragments.”

She added that paid news services might cause further inequality between those able to “afford high-quality news and information and those who are not and who may, therefore, become misinformed.”

Richard Herlihy 

Image Credit: Richard Herlihy