News.me, the stealthy social news project being developed by Betaworks in conjunction with The New York Times, has just started accepting invite requests. As part of the partnership deal, The New York Times took an equity stake in Bit.ly, a URL-shortening service from Betaworks, the technology incubator behind several notable social Web companies, including Twitter dashboard TweetDeck, real-time analytics service Chartbeat and audience engagement platform SocialFlow.
How exactly Bit.ly will be used in the upcoming News.me service is still unknown, but we do know that it will debut in the form of an app for the Apple iPad. And now you can request to be first on the list to try it out.
What's News.Me? A Recap of What We Know
Betaworks CEO John Borthwick wouldn't disclose the Times' stake in Bit.ly at the time of the partnership, but the equity is supposed to be payment for the work the Times' R&D group put into the project prior to Betaworks' involvemet.
The little we do know of News.me comes via this NYT article from September, which revealed that the service had been in development for six months, will initially debut as an iPad application with a possible Web-based app coming later on and that its name should provide a fairly good hint as to what it's all about.
Borthwick also had said the service would launch by year-end. (OK, folks, you now have 2 days.)
Bit.ly, in case you're unaware, is the URL-shortening service that takes long Web addresses and shortens them into more manageable links, mainly for the purpose of social sharing, such as on sites like Twitter where a 140-character limit on updates is enforced. Because Twitter has now emerged as a social news platform, the data Bit.ly has access to - 30 billion links this year as of September - is a veritable goldmine for determining what news and topics are popular across Web.
It only makes sense for Bit.ly to turn that data into a news service of sorts, or even a standalone iPad app, as it is apparently now planning to do. However, News.me will face stiff competition once it lands, as several other companies have already done just that.
News.me's Stiff Competition
Earlier this year, another social news startup called Flipboard delivered on the promise of a well-designed, magazine-like social news reading app for iPad. (Our ongoing coverage is here).This app looks beyond Twitter, allowing users to integrate both it and other networks like Facebook, Flickr, Google Reader as well as RSS feeds from popular websites. For now Flipboard just takes the content and makes it "pretty," but its acquisition of semantic technology startup Ellerdale means that it will soon begin to highlight items of importance to you, through algorithms that learn of your interests, allowing it to separate the signal from the noise.
Flipboard, while one of the more popular applications, is not alone in this space. It joins other interactive, thoughtfully designed news-reading applications like Reeder and Pulse, the latter of which allows you to browse Facebook in addition to blogs. Twitter itself also revamped its iPad app earlier this year, making it a more usable tool to consume flows of information.
What will News.me do that's unique? Well, it's possible that it may get the jump on Flipboard as being the first to discover trends in new and innovative ways through the use of semantic technology, perhaps. Since Flipboard has yet to launch its semantic integration, News.me could appeal to those who need more than just an attractive layout of the news, or even popular trends, but need to find the news that's highly relevant to them.
But these are just guesses. In the meantime, we've requested our invite. You should too.
Disclosure: NYT is a syndication partner with ReadWriteWeb.