Most news applications you'll come across are centered around the text and photos of a new story, rather than the broader implications and subsequent discussions of how it affects its readers.
News organization Al Jazeera's app, AJ+, takes the story-centric model and flip it on its head by focusing on debates and discussions between users.
Read, watch, discuss, debate
At its heart, AJ+ is based around the simple of idea of people coming together to discuss what's happening in the news. It also aims to make the process of viewing and discussing the stories as painless as possible.
AJ+ organizes all of its stories/topics into "cards". A card displays the news topic in a variety of ways including a short news brief, quiz, infographic, or video. Each of these cards are sorted together into "decks". Each card/deck has a hashtag (e.g. #PoliceBrutality, #BeatingEbola, etc.) which are compiled and consistently updated.
Videos are shown in a small, easily-digestible clips that usually don't last more than a few minutes. The videos are specially made for AJ+ which means that they briefly sum up the news and pose questions for users to discuss in the comments section. The short, informative videos are one of the stronger points of AJ+.
Social network integration is a key part of AJ+. You can sign into either Twitter or Facebook take full advantage of the features, including a personalized newsfeed, and comment on cards.
As mentioned above, the main emphasis for the app is the comments for each individual story or topic.
I was curious to see if would be a reasonable discussion or if it would be infested with trolls. After spending some time, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there weren't many trolls and people were being fairly respectful to one another. Granted this could easily change if the app grows popular and inevitably draws in a larger audience, but for the moment AJ+ seems to be achieving its goal as a place for civil debate and discussion.
Pick a card, any card
AJ+ starts with a tutorial about how to use the app. The app has a minimalist design - almost to the point that it can be difficult to understand the controls - that is based around swiping. Most of your gestures will be swiping left or right between cards.
Take note: unlike most apps, you must hold your finger down on the card for a moment before swiping; simply swiping won't do anything. At first this proves to be frustrating when trying to quickly cycle through cards, but eventually it becomes second-nature and intuitive.
Cards can also be minimized by using a pinching gesture. This can be especially useful when you want to scroll through lots of cards.
A step in the right direction
Although some context and information is lacking for some topics, the townhall-style format of AJ+ is a great way to get people discussing important contemporary topics in a civilized and engaging manner.