This is a tale of two Chinese “news aggregation” apps battling each other for dominance – in the US market. One is the AI-powered ByteDance's TopBuzz, and the other is Particle Media's News Break – also AI-powered.
According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) – one of them is the “David” – currently pitted against the “Goliath.”
But one of the actual money-quotes from the article is this: “The slowing dynamics of the Chinese internet scene have prodded some local companies to expand overseas – and they often have an innovation edge because of fierce competition at home.”
“Home,” here, of course, is mainland China – cut off by the will of Beijing by the Great Firewall. Inside this apparently, vastly isolated place one would expect to find at least tech stagnation if not entropy – certainly not any kind of progress – but the stories of ByteDance's TopBuzz (“Goliath”) and Particle Media's “News Break” (“David”) seem to be painting a different picture.
And it's this: Chinese tech giants are now winning to such a degree that they are competing amongst themselves in the US market. The SCMP report provides some figures: News Break is currently enjoying higher app download figures than CNN and Reddit put together.
“News Break was the most downloaded Android news app in the US from January to September, and ranked second on Apple's App Store, behind Twitter,” the report drives the point home.
But neither of these apps are any kind of agnostic “news feeds” – they are in fact recommendation engines. Instead of exposing users to whatever is actually happening in the world, they aim to stunt users and keep them inside the immediate bubble of their own making by surfacing only the content AI has calculated they would be most comfortable seeing.
One of these Chinese apps is described as sending “customized content to readers, based on their location, clicking and browser history and even their phone model.”
The other's business model may vary slightly – but really, without warranting a separate quote.
But before blaming China for taking advantage of technology to to skew it to its favor in these gut-wrenching terms, let's not forget: it wasn't the Chinese who moved aggressively to kill RSS – the most standardized feed format to date that allows users to stay up to date, chronologically, with any number of websites in a single news aggregator – in other words, the original news aggregation “app.”
If anything, it was Google that attacked RSS when they killed Google Reader for no obvious reason other than to remove the standard from the web – and Facebook and Twitter – who all used to offer RSS feeds but have since either removed or crippled this type of support.