Artifact’s DNA Lives on in Yahoo’s Revamped AI-Powered News App

Artifact’s DNA Lives on in Yahoo’s Revamped AI-Powered News App

Today Yahoo is debuting a revamped version of its news app. This new Yahoo News app, which is available as a free download now, is powered by the underlying code of the well received yet short-lived app Artifact. And, of course, the new app is infused with artificial intelligence capabilities to surface the news articles that might interest you most.

Artifact was a news reader app that launched in 2023 and was helmed by Instagram cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. It made heavy use of AI, employing algorithms to process user behavior and serve readers highly personalized content based on which news stories they engaged with. A little over a year after it started, the Artifact team shut down the service after it became clear it wasn’t growing enough.

Though the app may have floundered, its resurrection was swift. In April, Yahoo announced it had bought Artifact with the goal of bringing Yahoo users “more content tailored to their interests.” Just over two months later, that plan has emerged in the form of the revamped Yahoo News app.

Extra, Extra

Yahoo News is gigantic. It’s the biggest news platform in the US, with over 185 million monthly visitors. Now, Yahoo hopes to use the machine intelligence engine behind Artifact to revitalize its app by sharpening its powers of personalization, a move that could help Yahoo hop headfirst into the AI scrum.

The new Yahoo News app is free (though ad-supported), available on iOS and Android, and can be used with or without a Yahoo account. This AI push for the News app comes a few days after Yahoo introduced AI updates to its Mail app. Yahoo is also adding generative AI summaries of news articles. In the new app, users will see a prompt in some stories to generate “Key Takeaways.” After tapping the prompt, users will see a quick summary load after a second or two of computation. The AI summaries appear in the desktop version of Yahoo News too, but only for a small subset of users who are selected and then choose to opt in.

The recommendation features enabled by the Artifact-driven algorithms in the Yahoo News app are mobile only for now. They aren’t powering the desktop version of Yahoo News yet, but Yahoo says the goal is to eventually synchronize features across all platforms.

Kat Downs Mulder, senior vice president and general manager of Yahoo News, says the update is a “complete top to bottom redesign of our Yahoo News app.” Even at first glance, the difference is immediately noticeable. The app looks slick and uncluttered, and it’s simple to navigate. And behind the scenes, there’s a variety of AI algorithms pulling strings to show you what you want to see. Some of these features are powered by proprietary technology, and some powered by the AI bigwigs Yahoo has partnered with, like OpenAI.

Courtesy of Yahoo

The actual articles displayed in the app are curated from news websites and are available without paywalls or subscription requirements. (Yahoo News partners with over a thousand publishers, who get paid based on revenue sharing agreements. It’s kind of like Spotify, but for news.)

Getting started requires minimal effort. When you launch it, the app asks you to pick five or more news topics you’re interested in, like politics, science, gaming, and climate. From there, a combination of algorithmic curation and some human finagling from people in an editorial role at Yahoo News determine what you see. Additional customization options let you block individual publications or keywords if you don’t ever want to see them in your feed again. (Something like “Elon,” for example.)

Downs Mulder says what you see in the new Yahoo News app is the result of a careful balance of AI and editorial decision making. It’s tailored to your interests, while also showing a Top Stories section that displays what Yahoo considers the most important stories of the day. Those are decided on via a symbiotic process where AI flags stories that seem to have more heft or user interest, and people in editorial roles at Yahoo News decide to include the stories that seem most important. The team also wants to keep the app from being annoying, and Yahoo says it’s intentional about which notifications you get pestered with.

“People want places to spend their time that are going to help them save time and get what they want to get done, done,” Downs Mulder says. “And in this case, that’s getting informed, having things to talk about.”

Tomorrow’s Headlines

Still, the main problems with recommendation algorithms that aggressively track user behavior and promote news stories with high engagement is that they often reinforce bias and can lead to the spread of misinformation. If you can select exactly what news sources and what types of stories you want delivered to you, there’s a risk that you’ll get locked into an echo chamber. Downs Muller says Yahoo is trying to very carefully balance on that ethical tightrope of delivering what users want to read without causing troublesome side-effects.

“I really like the way this app has come together, because it does balance that Top Stories with that ‘for you’ in a way that’s going to provide you that awareness of what I need to know and what I want to know,” Downs Mulder says. “That’s what’s going to keep a reader from getting too far down a rabbit hole.”

Another one of Artifact’s bias-combatting features that shows up in the redesign is the ability for clickbait headlines to get rewritten on the fly. Users who see a headline that feels like clickbait can flag it, and once enough people have reported it, the headline will be replaced in the app with a clearer, often more direct rewrite. The new headlines are composed by the generative AI engine and fine-tuned by Yahoo’s human news curators.

To keep people clicking, the Yahoo News app also includes an element of gamification, where the app tracks how many articles you read and bestows fun titles upon you to mark your level of effort. Read enough stories and you’ll get rewarded with a badge. For example, reading 1 story gets you the Learner title, while going up to 250 reads labels you a Sage, which Yahoo says labels you, “one of the top readers on Yahoo News” within the app.

The Artifact-ification of the News app might also pave the way for future features across Yahoo. Downs Mulder envisions a future where those badges for reading more pay off in a more finite way. If someone is classified as a Sage, they might be treated as having more authority or credibility within the broader Yahoo community.

Some former Artifact features haven’t quite made their way into the new Yahoo News. The pre-Yahoo version of Artifact included a feature that used AI voices to read articles aloud, including AI-generated voices that sounded like rapper Snoop Dogg and not-rapper Gwenyth Paltrow, among others. That option isn’t in Yahoo News yet, though when asked about it, Downs Mulder says more features are coming to the Yahoo News app in the near future, and some of them will be along those lines. “I would just encourage you to stay tuned,” she says.

Boone Ashworth

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