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May 4, 2021, 12:02 p.m.

Eying a future subscription service, Twitter acquires the ad-free news startup Scroll

But we have bad news. The acquisition means that the handy news aggregator Nuzzel will be shut down.

Since Scroll launched in early 2020, its users have paid $5 per month for ad-free versions of news sites like The Atlantic, The Verge, The Sacramento Bee, and The Daily Beast with most of the fee going straight to publishers.

I’ve tried it out and the technology (actually!) keeps me logged in. It sounded cheesy to some ears, but it turns out an uncluttered, ad-free reading experience really can make for a better internet. For publishers watching ad revenue circle the drain, the ability to offer a more streamlined version of their site to readers willing to pay just a bit extra sounded pretty good, too.

But does Scroll make more sense as a feature than as a standalone product? In the months after its launch, Scroll made moves in that direction, forming a bundled partnership with McClatchy and teaming up with Mozilla’s Firefox as part of an offering that promises fewer trackers and faster speeds.

Twitter, it seems, was thinking along the same lines. The social media platform announced Tuesday that it had acquired Scroll as part of a future subscription service. Neither company disclosed the terms of the sale.

Scroll’s entire 13-person team will move over to Twitter and work to integrate the product into a subscription service to be launched “later in the year.” In the meantime, Scroll will go into “private beta” and pause all new signups. (Current users will get to continue using the service.)

Scroll CEO Tony Haile, former Chartbeat CEO, explained the company’s marching orders in a blog post announcing the acquisition:

The mission we’ve been given by Jack and the Twitter team is simple: take the model and platform that Scroll has built and scale it so that everyone who uses Twitter has the opportunity to experience an internet without friction and frustration, a great gathering of people who love the news and pay to sustainably support it.

The acquisition of Scroll — and, previously, the newsletter company Revue — are part of something called “Longform” taking shape at Twitter.

Twitter’s VP of product, Mike Park, said the new project will give readers “a first-class experience” of “articles, threads and newsletters” both “on and off Twitter.” A recent job listing said the project will “help publishers grow, understand, and engage their audience” — so expect analytics and conversation-boosting tools, too.

But — wait! We have some bad news.

The acquisition means that the handy news aggregator Nuzzel, operated by Scroll since late 2018, will be shut down. Haile explained in a goodbye-for-now post that Scroll’s work on the app has chiefly consisted of “quick fixes and duct tape” and that achieving the scale required for integration into Twitter would mean starting from scratch:

Simply cloning a service conceived in 2012 doesn’t make a ton of sense. Instead we’re going to spend a little time working out how the best of Nuzzel should be expressed in 2021. There may be elements of Nuzzel that also belong in the Twitter app or that can take advantage of new internal APIs. In the meantime, Nuzzel’s app, site and email service will go dark. 

Haile writes that Nuzzel has fans at Twitter and an internal team hopes to “take the best of the Nuzzel experience and build it directly into Twitter.”

But — at least for some of us here at Nieman Lab — a key selling point for Nuzzel was that it allows you to spend less time on Twitter by flagging stories that you can’t miss, and leaving the rest. So we’ll see!

POSTED     May 4, 2021, 12:02 p.m.
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