Three years ago, John Borak, a self-described “news junkie,” was searching for a platform or app that worked as both a bookmarklet and a distraction-free news reader. Unsatisfied with his options, Borak, who works full-time as a software developer, created his own bookmarking app that users could add to their web browsers.
That initial idea has since evolved into Papyral: a concept that is part news reader, part social media platform.
Borak says the best interface for reading is paper, which inspires the design of the site and is the reason he called it Papyral – a name whose etymology stems from the word “papyrus” and means “paper-like.”
He’s designing Papyral to allow users to read news articles in a clean, minimalist layout, eliminating all unnecessary content from the page.
Papyral offers aggregation, bookmarking, a social network and a distraction-free reader all in one place, in order to eliminate the problem of needing three or four different apps to do all those things, Borak said.
“Everyone is used to the utility that social networks give people,” he said. “I wanted to try to make it easy to organize all the information that people are interested in through the websites that they enjoy.”
All users have the ability to see news from the publishers they follow in their news feeds, save and share stories and interact with other users by commenting on and liking stories. Borak plans to launch a premium option that will offer additional features, such as the ability to annotate stories, which would allow users to highlight and isolate quotes. Premium users could also search years’ old content, somewhat like a mini-search engine, he said. Borak anticipates the Premium feature to cost $30 per year.
“The vision is to create an experience that has modern features that we like that technology gives us,” he said.
All users will be able to access all features within the first 30 days after they sign up. Afterward, free users will be limited to following only 10 websites.
Papyral is still in its very early stages: Borak is a one-man band who is bootstrapping the project all on his own. Currently Papyral only has about 100 users. He said he plans to start marketing the site in April when the premium option launches.
There is not yet a mobile app, although the website is mobile-ready.
A User-Friendly Design
Papyral is a platform designed with users, not publishers, in mind. Unlike other social networking platforms, publishers don’t currently have the option to create a profile or page on the site, meaning it would be a challenge to establish any kind of brand identity. The distraction-free design also means publishers won’t benefit from ad revenue. Borak said it’s not his mission to work with publishers, but he would be open to talking with them later on.
A Gatekeeper for Fake News
Borak said Papyral will be able to prevent fake sources of news from being accessed through the site. The company will take on the role of an editor in regard to which websites users can subscribe. By using journalistic guidelines, websites will be held to a high standard, he said.
Borak acknowledges that reviewing websites will be tricky, but his goal is to develop a review process that will involve experts from the news industry who can help approve sites.
A Quieter Social Media Platform
Jennifer Brown, an independent marketing communications consultant, said Papyral likely faces an uphill battle because a growing number of news consumers use Facebook access the news – and Facebook currently dominates Apple’s app store, leaving little room for newcomers. She also pointed out that many people are looking to reduce the number of platforms they use because of social media fatigue.
But Borak envisions Papyral to be an alternative to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Papyral is meant to specifically be used for reading up on current events and other news, as well as give users the ability to discuss stories in a setting that’s more private than Twitter. And he believes the distraction-free design will be a selling point.
“On Twitter you can discuss news articles, but it gets noisy,” he said. “And on Facebook you can discuss the news, but there’s a lot going on because it’s a general interest platform.”
Bianca Fortis is the associate editor at MediaShift, a founding member of the Transborder Media storytelling collective and a social media consultant. Follow her on Twitter @biancafortis.