As a blogger, I’m always searching for the most interesting and relevant tech news happening right now. Twitter has proven to be quite handy for discovering breaking stories and gauging the general sentiment of a community of people who share the same interests as I do. Anyone who has used Twitter long enough knows however, that there tends to be a bit of “noise” as the lack of an automated filter for bad jokes or uninteresting comments like my own makes it a difficult stream of information to wade through.
Social newsreading apps may be the silver bullet for decluttering and making sense of this information overload. In general, these apps grab content from a variety of popular news sources and, combined with your social media activity from services like Twitter and Facebook, deliver personalized content that users would find interesting.
The first of these apps such as Flipboard and Pulse originated on the iPad, naturally, since its larger screen size makes reading more enjoyable than on the iPhone. These apps have made huge strides since then, and along with it came an abundance of competitors hitting the market. Most recently, Google debut their version last week with an app called Google Currents.
Surveying the battlefield
For the past week, I’ve downloaded a number of these social newsreading apps on my newly-acquired iPod Touch, trying to find the one that just works.
Initially, I pinned my hopes on the infallible Flipboard, given its immense popularity and beautiful design. Unfortunately, the “flipping” style of navigating through content proved to be far too inefficient and clumsy for me.
When reading through a 1000+ word article, I prefer the natural style of of reading you get from scrolling from the very top until the end. Having the entire content on the same page gives me the added comfort of knowing I can quickly scroll right to any part of the article that I want to read again. On Flipboard, I would have to flip through sections of that article, searching tirelessly before I can locate that particular snippet I’m looking for. It reminds me of articles that are divided into multiple pages and doesn’t give you the option to view the entire contents on a single page.
Sure, Flipboard’s design is drop-dead gorgeous, but design can only take you so far if the general user experience is lousy. As a user, all I care about is finding the most shared/talked about content on the Web, right now. Which leads me to my discovery of my current favorite social newsreading app, Zite.
Zite, your personalized magazine
What sets Zite apart from other news aggregators is that it gets smarter as it learns from your reading activity. Not only does it feature the most shared stories on your favorite topics, it continuously fine-tunes the content is finds for you to better match your preferences. Whenever you read an article on Zite, you can indicate your rating by giving it a thumbs up or down. So, if you start reading and giving positive ratings for articles from say, Arstechnica, Zite’s algorithm will adapt the content to deliver more articles from the site. The same would apply for sites you dislike (*cough Mashable *cough).
You can also connect your Twitter and Google Reader accounts in order to personalize what you read. But rather than simply building a section for reading stories shared on those services, it analyzes your activity to build a stronger understanding of topics you share and care about. As Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb succintly puts it, think of it as “Pandora for web magazine reading, but smarter.”
I’ve only used Zite and a bevy of other social newsreading apps for the past week. Over time, my inclinations will surely evolve and whether that means Zite will continue being my destination of choice remains to be seen. But, I have strong hopes for the service because it excels on three areas: it’s automatic, minimalistic, and smart. Other apps seem to be competing more on aesthetic terms, so eventually you find yourself picking your favorite based on its look, rather than its usability.
Zite may be the difference maker. It may not be as pretty as its competition, but it doesn’t need to. I’ve found so many great articles with little searching on my part. Zite does all the heavy-lifting in the background so that the next interesting story is just a click away.
Download the Zite app for free[iTunes link] on your iPhone or iPad.