Canada's Bill C-18, known as the Online News Act, was introduced in the summer of 2023 with the intention of supporting local news outlets. The bill mandates that tech giants, such as Meta and Google, compensate Canadian news organizations for content shared on their platforms. This legislative move aimed to bolster the news industry which has seen a decline in traditional revenue streams with the rise of digital platforms. However, in a counter move, Meta responded by blocking news on its Canadian social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram.
Meta's removal of news content has significantly impacted how Canadians, especially Gen Z, access news. Social media, particularly platforms like Instagram, had become a primary source of news due to their engaging nature. This blockade raises concerns about a less informed Canadian population, as Gen Z might not turn to traditional, often paid news sources that lack the interactive appeal of social media.
What newZ does
newZ, an engaging cross-platform news application tailored for Gen Z, was built in response to this issue. The Act says a digital news intermediary can, "be exempted from the Act if [they] satisfy certain conditions, such as providing fair compensation to news businesses and contributing to the sustainbility of Canada's news marketplace." newZ accomplishes just that by directing traffic to the original publishers' websites, thereby increasing exposure of Canadian news outlets while offering an easily accessible platform for news consumption that resonates with the digital habits of younger audiences.
The app offers a highly personalized news-reading experience, curating articles based on the user's interests and preferences for a relevant and engaging content feed. It features a snap scrolling interface, emulating popular apps like Tinder and TikTok, making news consumption intuitive and appealing to Gen Z users.
Users first encounter concise summaries of news articles. A simple tap grants access to the full article on the publisher's website, providing comprehensive information and increasing the outlets' exposure. The 'Save for Later' feature allows users to bookmark stories for reading at later times. Additionally, newZ includes a search functionality, enabling exploration of specific topics, events, or news sources.
How we built it
We developed newZ as a cross-platform application for use across different devices. We chose Flutter for the frontend to leverage its ability to natively compile mobile applications from a single codebase. Flutter's programming language, Dart, was used for writing the application. The project employs a Flask backend which exposes a web API for the frontend. In the backend, we scrape articles from newsapi.org and store them in a PostgreSQL database. We used both Xcode and Android Studio as our development environments to build and test the application on iOS and Android platforms.
None of us had any prior experience with mobile development and had never used Flutter or Dart before. Setting up and navigating the software was quite a hurdle, but we became more and more comfortable as time went on. Also, integrating the frontend with the backend was an ongoing challenge.
On the flip side, we are very proud that we managed to create a functional mobile app! At 4 a.m. with bugs and merge conflicts, we were losing hope but are glad it worked out.
What we learned
We learned that effective delegation of tasks as well as ongoing communication is very important for the project to proceed smoothly. Also, we were reminded that setting up software environments always takes longer than we think.
What's next for newZ
Going to bed... :)