A San Francisco startup wants to inject a little history into your news. 

The startup is Timeline, which has launched an iPhone app that features short articles about current events—and bite-sized history lessons to go with them. 

Reading Timeline stories can be mind-expanding, if a little exhausting. One article on the minimum wage, for instance, notes that it rose in 20 states at the beginning of 2015 and expands on that for a few paragraphs before segueing into another article about the first minimum wage law passed in 1912. After that come another few paragraphs about a 1935 Supreme Court decision.

In all, that one “timeline” featured eight different sections, each illustrated with a picture, video, or some other visual element. Timeline considers each section a “card.”

“It’s a difficult process,” said Jonathan Kalan, editor in chief of the new venture. “We try to keep entries to about 100 words a card, that’s tough to do.” 

Timelines pegged to news events take Timeline’s editorial team approximately a day to research and produce, while features can take between three and five days. Short articles have about five “cards,” while longer ones have as many as 15. The startup doesn’t try to put every news story into historical context, Kalan said; instead, it limits itself to events that will most benefit from the long view.

“It’s impossible to cover everything in history, right?” Kalan said. “For us, the real key is finding a tight thread, one that allows us to … focus on some sort of evolution, some sort of change (in a topic).”

The Timeline app is designed specifically to take advantage of larger screens on the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. The user interface is based on scrolling between cards, and works smoothly. One button lets you bookmark an article to read later (accessible via a page of stored bookmarks), and another lets you pop out of the text view and into a timeline view, with the dates and headings presented in chronological order. From there you can tap on a date and pop back in to the text view at that card entry. 

“Timeline was born out of personal frustration with the lack of historic and geographic context in current affairs: so much sensationalism couple with almost no depth,” CEO Tamer Hassanein said in a press release.

The team plans another release in February with “more robust” features like better algorithms (i.e. better personalized news stories), an iPad-specific design, and “exploration modes.” The current app is free and doesn’t have any ads. A spokesperson for the company said Timeline has no plans for making money in the near or mid-term, and is instead focused on boosting consumer adoption first.

Photo by John Overholt