Up until recently RSS was the best technology for taming the Internet. You selected a RSS reader, like Google Reader, and subscribed to all the sites you thought valuable. The trouble is most sites send too many posts, so you get way more feeds than you want to read.
What I dreamed about was software that would look at what’s being published on the Internet while being able to read my mind and select just the stories I would love to read. Zite isn’t that software, but it’s pretty damn close. It does all the hard work of surfing the net far and wide to find what I might like to read, and then slowly learns from what I really like. It becomes a customized magazine.
When I got my iPad I started out with the popular Flipboard app that supposedly sent me the stories I wanted to read, but not really. I then discovered Zite, and within days, nearly every story they send to the main section is one I want to read. I get stories from The New York Times, The Economist, and from blogs I never heard of, as well as hundreds of other sources famous or obscure, but they all produce great essays and articles I want to read. Of course those same sites might produce dozens of other articles too, ones other people want to read but not me, but Zite doesn’t send me those. This is how Zite beats RSS.
As I read I thumbs up or thumbs down what I like, just like with Pandora and music, and the Zite engine pays attention. Whatever kinds of algorithms Zite uses, they are very smart.
Sadly, Zite is only for the iPad. I wished they had a desktop version. Zite has made me love my iPad, but I spend most of my time at my desk.
I really look forward to reading Zite every day, or even twice a day. I’m thrilled by the content it finds for me. It is the best of the best of the internet, suited for my tastes.
There are some obstacles to overcome. Are there stories I’d also like to read that Zite misses? For instance Zite introduced me to the website The Millions, a site for book lovers, with two great articles, “(Re)Imagining True Lives: On Historical Fiction” and “The Million Basic Plots.” While in Zite and reading the article, there’s a button for the Web. I pushed it and it takes me to The Millions home page where I can read other articles. And if I find another one I like, I can click the Options button and thumbs up that article too.
Yet, with all the great reading Zite provides I still wonder what I’m missing. But Zite provided an answer to that too, with “Why keeping up with RSS is poisonous to Productivity, sanity” by Jacqui Cheng at ARS Technica. Cheng makes a good point about living with ignorance. The reason why RSS is flawed is because it gives me too much to read. And thinking about all the stuff I might be wanting to read is just as flawed. Cheng said she went without RSS and just read a few good sites and felt just as informed. I’ve always wondered if I could pick just one news site, or newspaper, or news magazine, or even news television show, and get all the news I really needed. But when I think about doing that, I start fearing what I would be missing again.
Zite seems to be a great compromise. My experiment now will be to see if Zite can be my only source of news by being the best news aggregator. Zite was recently bought by CNN which is putting a huge scare in us Zite fans, but owners of Zite and CNN swear they will not allow Zite to become a conduit for CNN News.
When I read Zite I use several built-in tools. It has buttons for Instapaper, Twitter, Facebook, Email and other social functions. I have a Twitter account that I use like Instapaper. Most web sites now have icons for tweeting all their articles. To remember what I’ve read, or want to read, I just tweet it to myself. But I’m also using Instapaper to compare the two. I email articles to friends I think would like them, and on rare occasions I’ll send an article to Facebook.
Zite begs for the synergy of all these programs, and it would be cool if Zite eventually incorporated their functionality into Zite. Zite needs to be incorporated into the browser so it will work from desktops including PC, Mac, and Linux, and it needs to work with smartphones and all tablets. Instead of saving to Instapaper or Twitter, it should let me mark the articles I want to save to call up within Zite. And it should allow people to share their Zite reading with other people. Wouldn’t it be fun to see what your friends or famous people like to read?
Zite has a lot of possibilities, but it needs to get away from the iPad only platform. Zite is the first app that I feel makes my iPad worth owning.
Now there are some storm clouds on the horizon for apps like Zite, Flipboard, Pulse and others. They take content from other sites, often removing their ads, and presenting them to you in a reformatted, easy to read format. This undermines the financial foundation of the original news sites, but it’s well within the link sharing paradigm of the world wide web.
The Internet is killing paper newspapers and magazines. And paper newspapers and magazines are having a hard time transitioning to the internet and find new financial models of support. These news aggregators are a threat to them, but if both sides work together it could be a big win-win situation. Newspapers and magazines have always had the same problem as RSS feeds, they present you will more stories than you want to read. In our fast paced world that’s only going faster and faster, that’s too much of a time waster.
To see what all these apps look like:
JWH – 9/7/11