News publishers find themselves in a shifting world of audience preferences. Today's audience desires a fully-featured mobile app experience. Publishers want to reach their audience on both iOS and Android, but they don't want to double their effort and expenses developing for multiple platforms.
The Flutter team had a vision to provide best practices in the form of a code “toolkit” that allows news publishers to quickly build, deploy, and maintain both apps from a single codebase.
The team reached out to Very Good Ventures to design and code the Flutter News Toolkit. In short order, the VGV team produced a toolkit that allows publishers to deploy beautiful, effective, and customizable mobile apps.
The Flutter News Toolkit saves publishers up to 80% of the work needed to publish a mobile app.
Very Good Ventures is the leading Flutter app consultancy, and has helped companies design, build, and scale successful apps operating on every conceivable screen. Using proven processes and a deep commitment to open collaboration, Very Good Ventures is uniquely positioned to help news organizations leverage Flutter for multi-platform app deployment.
With the Flutter News Toolkit, news organizations of all sizes gain the ability to build and launch or quickly migrate mobile apps for all target platforms quickly and easily. Teams can deploy standardized workflows and automate the most common service integrations — saving time and money while widening their audience reach.
Bringing technology and expertise together to help news organizations flourish
How people consume news has evolved rapidly over the past several years, leading publishers to seek content distribution channels beyond their websites. To connect with a larger, more engaged audience, they are increasingly prioritizing mobile apps.
Why Google built the Flutter News Toolkit and watch a sample app get set up
Fitting the World Cup in your pocket
If you are a news outlet and your national football team is contending for a title in the biggest tournament in the world, you know that readers want the latest news about their team right in their pockets. It shouldn’t matter whether that pocket has an Android or an Apple phone; they just want to cheer for their team.
At the close of 2022, Moroccan news outlet Hespress provided the latest news about the national team through their new multi-platform English language app. With the help of VGV and the Flutter News Toolkit, they were able to build the app in just six weeks.
“Building mobile apps is very difficult and challenging for news publishers who have solid name recognition but only a handful of employees other than the editorial staff,” said Zoey Fan, Senior Product Manager at Google. “We sought a technical solution and methodology that would make it possible for these organizations to develop mobile apps with limited resources.”
“We calculate that within the first year of launching a mobile application, a news outlet can increase by 10% daily active users or monthly active users, said Timothy Hoang, Technical Solutions Product Manager at Google.
The challenge of mobile app development
“Many local news outlets don’t have the engineering resources of a network news organization or publishing conglomerate,” said Timothy Hoang, Product Manager at Google. “Their tech stacks are dedicated to the website, and they likely don’t have mobile developers on staff.”
Repurposing teams primarily familiar with and responsible for maintaining a web presence puts the site performance at risk and sets the stage for excruciatingly slow mobile app development. The costly alternative is adding personnel. “For these outlets, their primary pain points revolved around funding additional teams to perform both Android and iOS development,” said Hoang.
The Flutter team at Google wanted to build on the years-long efforts of the Google News Initiative maintaining and publishing best practices from news organizations of all sizes. Hoang and Fan imagined a resource that brought in those best practices and popular features to help news organizations implement the features they wanted, customize as necessary, and launch quickly.
For the technology challenge, Flutter was a natural fit for development across different mobile devices. A Flutter app built from one single codebase can be deployed to Android, iOS, and other platforms. Instead of doubling the effort and writing apps for both iOS and Android, developers can build the features once and be able to deploy to both platforms.
The toolkit can also be used by larger publishers with existing native apps seeking to replace or streamline an app. The Flutter News Toolkit and Very Good Ventures development expertise can migrate to Flutter in weeks.
Flutter has huge advantages, but the migration brings a shift in programming languages, a change in styles, and a new widget toolkit. Both frontend development and the design team are affected. Very Good Ventures has a proven training process to build the skills within the team so that teams can shift to Flutter efficiently.
Unlocking the potential of Flutter and Dart
Very Good Ventures has proven processes for developing applications in Flutter that have been key in the rapid development of the Flutter News Toolkit.
For example, one of the open source tools within the Flutter News Toolkit is Dart Frog, a fast, minimal backend framework for Dart developed by Very Good Ventures. Dart Frog unlocks many new capabilities for developers already using Dart, including the ability to share code, tooling, and processes across the front and backend.
“Very Good Ventures is laser focused on process and making life easier for the developers,” said Hoang. “They find economies of scale everywhere, always suggesting technologies that improve efficiency, like setting us up so that developers only need to learn Flutter and Dart to work on both front and backend development.”
Beyond deep technical experience, Very Good Ventures also offers an eagerness to collaborate. “The team at Very Good Ventures is very responsive, and we definitely appreciate their transparency, flexibility, and attention to detail,” said Hoang.
“They kept us on time and on budget by suggesting which features to prioritize based on the value to the users. They provided us regular updates on implementations, bug fixes, and outstanding tasks, so we never had to wonder about the project status,” said Hoang.
Quality design out of the box
Users of the toolkit don’t just get Google News Initiative best practices and Flutter code. They get the benefits of Very Good Ventures’ design insights and approach as a starting point for their app.
At the outset of the design process, VGV Design sought to find a fundamental set of features that would provide the greatest value to publishers. In addition to a broad audit of news sites and mobile apps, the team conducted interviews with publishers across the globe to understand their needs. VGV spoke with news organizations large and small, with a diverse mix of editorial emphases: from regional reporting, to niche topics, to general news. They took the common patterns they observed and created a template experience with a core set of content objects and user interface components that different publishers can easily configure to deliver their distinct editorial experiences.
The template addresses publishers’ brand identity needs as adeptly as editorial ones. VGV’s research, plus their experience creating and implementing design systems and white-label experiences for clients, informed the template’s visual customization features. It includes simple but powerful theming capabilities that let publishers easily and consistently apply their brand identity — logo, color palette, typography, etc. — to the entire application.
“Very Good Ventures puts a lot of design guidance into the toolkit as well. The template is not just a block of code. It offers a beautiful UI to start with. The user can easily customize, but they start from a great looking, performant app,” said Fan.
Expanding the audience for Hespress
The toolkit got its first use with leading Moroccan news outlet Hespress. With Very Good Ventures, they used the toolkit to create a new English language app. In only 6 weeks, VGV was able to partner with Hespress to develop their apps from start to finish, utilizing login, strategic ads placement, subscription, newsletter engagement, search, UI best practices, and more. In addition to leveraging the toolkit features available out of the box, Hespress worked with VGV to design and implement article commenting to further drive user engagement.. As the Moroccan team went deep into the FIFA World Cup tournament, users from around the world kept up to date via the new Hespress mobile app.
Open source and supported for longevity
The toolkit is more than a one-time fix for development; just as Flutter is an open source framework, the Flutter News Toolkit is also open source. The toolkit will be maintained by Google with the help of the community.
“We welcome pull requests from developers with new features and fixes,” said Fan.
Finding a partner in Very Good Ventures
“The Flutter News Toolkit required collaboration between many working groups in and out of Google. It was so satisfying to build a solution that our users – our publishers – wanted,” said Fan. From design to product enhancement, Very Good Ventures was able to produce the Flutter News Toolkit in just six months. The initial development of the MVP only took six weeks.
“This toolkit is something that publishers had been asking for, and we executed this project with Very Good Ventures in a very short amount of time,” said Fan.
Very Good Ventures provided more than technical capability. “The Very Good Ventures team is just so organized,” said Fan. “I just have a lot of confidence in them. When they take on a project, I know we will get good results.”
Some Features included in the Flutter News Toolkit
Built from data-driven best practices, any organization who implements the toolkit has, out of the box:
- Trending Story ("Recirculation") Card
- Page templates, including video
- Ad-serving options
- Premium content
- Account management, including onboarding
- Newsletter sign up
- Social sharing
- Ads support
A score for news organizations around the world
With Very Good Ventures guiding the way, the team put the Flutter News Toolkit together on time and on budget, clearing the way for publishers all over the globe to quickly and easily deploy their mobile applications.
The toolkit provides the equivalent of at least three months of development on day one, with all the core services integrated and even prebuilt continuous integration/continuous deployment automations. Best practices for accessibility and internationalization are already in place. Organizations can fully customize their apps and use or replace any part they choose.
Thanks to the toolkit, Hespress was able to transmit the very good news of the national team’s FIFA victories to fans around the world.
For publishers interested in the Flutter News Toolkit, Google has made the open source repo available. For organizations seeking to accelerate deployment or manage the complexities of migration, Very Good Ventures offers additional expert resources.