Mobile news app Circa is gearing up for a big change: They’re jumping to the web. A new responsive web homepage was officially unveiled on February 26 after a soft launch earlier in the month. CEO Matt Galligan says “It’s a new platform for us in the same way that iOS and Android are new platforms for others.” This is a change in the usual way these things launch: Most times, services start on the web and then jump to mobile apps, rather than the other way around.
But launching a separate, desktop- and mobile-friendly responsive website means two big changes for Circa. It allows the startup, which currently has 22 employees, to tap into the groundswell of traffic Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter bring.
Circa launched in 2013 and has a healthy userbase for both their Android and iOS apps (the company declined to give numbers for either app downloads or users actively receiving push notifications). In a telephone conversation with Fast Company, Galligan said the primary reason for creating a website version of their app was to enable social discovery.
“We’ve had a limited web presence for some time with permalink pages,” Galligan added. “But we also saw stories going viral like last October. Our coverage of the Scottish referendum vote was the top story on Reddit for nearly 12 hours, and it’s a whole new kind of reader we can bring on.”
Currently, Circa relies on a readership of news geeks who download a specific app to their phones. Circa then pushes out a daily “Briefing” roundup to the user at a time of their choice (the content of which is determined via a feed constantly updated during the day) and sends push notifications to readers about major breaking stories and topics they choose to follow.
By launching a fully functional web presence, Circa is able to insert itself into social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit in a more robust way. This means a bigger readership, and more downloads of their mobile app. It also means, importantly for Circa’s long term, switching to an ad-supported model.
According to CrunchBase, Circa has currently raised $5.7 million for their free app and service. The company’s mobile apps currently don’t feature advertising, but this will change in the near future.
Galligan says Circa plans to introduce advertising onto both their website and mobile apps in Q2 and Q3 2015. “We are not really thinking of traditional banner ads in general,” he added. “We have some other ideas we want to explore, and you’ll see our advertising show up in our app and on the web at the same time.
In choosing to launch a web version with a homepage in order to steer users to their flagship mobile product, Circa is bucking an industry-wide trend that downplays homepage traffic in favor of direct porting of stories to social media. NowThis, the last major news migrant from mobile to web, conspicuously scrapped having a homepage altogether in favor of distributing exclusively to social networks.
But for Galligan and Circa, launching a web homepage serves a very specific purpose: driving traffic to their app. “Having to install an app (to see us) is a pretty high bar,” he added. “But the homepage is meant to get you in there.”