It would be fair to say that the challenges our planet faces, now more than ever, are huge. Just keeping all six billion of us nourished and satisfied on a day-to-day basis uses up vast resources, some of which are irreplaceable. Equally, there are plenty of human-made, human-affecting issues which are cause for concern.
Most of us are aware that these ongoing issues exist, but keeping up to speed with the latest eye-watering figures, never mind considering their consequence, is an impossible task.
This is the problem that Track180 is trying to solve. The aim is to provide an easy way to browse current global affairs, and the app collates information from multiple sources to give a full overview of each story. But does Track180 make things clearer, or just prettier?
Track180 is no cookie-cutter app – it has clearly been developed with a lot of care, thought and skill. Even the opening tour is polished, taking you through the unique interface with a series of side-scrolling, parallax-style instructional screens.
After being asked to pick a few subjects to follow — serious stuff like poverty, energy and politics — you are free to browse among the floating bubbles of news. It sounds silly, but it gives Track180 a unique look. Each story, which holds a headline and a featured image, floats around serenely, gently bumping against the sides of the screen and the other stories.
The design turns what is, in essence, a simple news reader into an educational experience.
A Wealth of Information
For convenience, Track180 tidies away all of its stories (of which there is a large number) into just six categories: Corporate Responsibility, Energy, Environment, Global Issues, Rights and US Policy. When you come to browse the Topics menu, though, you realize that there are numerous sub-topics within these overarching categories. Everything from deforestation to drug wars can be found, and followed for ongoing updates.
Each individual story in Track180 is less of a single entity, and more of a collection of articles, photo essays, videos and audio snippets. It also provides methods of taking action on the issue at hand, as well as other forms of media relevant to the story. The idea is, presumably, to give a rounded account of a news item, which then lets you come to a view on the story based on all the available evidence.
The design of the story view provides both clarity for ease of use, and considerable visual attractiveness for the discerning user. It centres around the story’s featured image, itself acting as a trigger for the social media sharing controls. Encircling it are speech-bubble-shaped links, which take you to the various sources which tell the story. In the majority of cases, the content is loaded in Track180‘s in-app web browser (meaning happy website publishers), and once you’re into the pop-up browser, you can swipe sideways through the media sources in slideshow fashion.
On the left-hand side of the story view is a timeline. This provides access to other stories within the niche topic you are browsing, in chronological order, allowing you to flick easily from item to item. This option really comes into its own when you want to follow a topic like fracking, which is an ongoing issue, with most stories relating to it being of significant consequence.
Track180‘s story view also has one final trick up its sleeve. A subtle menu, tightly encircling the featured image provides quick links to related topics. Reading a story about deforestation? Expect Track180 to offer nature conservation as a suggested topic.
Keeping up to Date
I was genuinely surprised, in a good way, to find that Track180 provides push notifications. It’s not that this is revolutionary in some way, but rather, it only then came to my attention that most iOS news readers lack this as an option.
Of course, in the case of Track180, with its mission to inform, notifications are extremely welcome, and they’re also easy to set up. Once you’ve created an account with Twitter, Facebook, or email, you can add topics to your favourites list by tapping the star in the bottom-left corner while you’re perusing a story. Any updates on your favourite topics are then pushed to you via iOS’s notifications system.
With many news apps, a notifications system like this would have your iPad beeping incessantly. In the case of Track180, though, content seems to come at a modest, but steady rate, meaning the notifications are useful, not annoying.
Reading the app’s accompanying blurb, it would be easy to write off Track180 immediately as a hugely mediocre let’s-all-change-the-world app. The reality is, though, that whilst Track180 may be, fundamentally, a fairly simple news reader, it is genuinely educational and a joy to use.
Thinking about ways Track180 could improve, it would, of course, be nice to see a more global aspect to the topics – there is currently a very extensive list of US policy issues, which may not necessarily be gripping reading for users in the rest of the world. Equally, sharing options other than Twitter, Facebook and email would be nice.
Quite frankly, though, I’m hard-pressed to find anything wrong with Track180. It works at speed and with ease, it looks beautiful, is visually clear, and it’s filled to the brim with great content. As a way of keeping up with the planet’s most pressing affairs, Track180 is, quite simply, sensational.