I flipped for Flipboard, Apple’s “app of the year” in 2010.
But I think it’s been bettered by a new reading and content curation and discovery app called “Zite” – as in zeitgeist.
Flipboard is still the reigning champion in taking your current social feeds – Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader – and assembling them fast into a much easier-to-read magazine-style format. You can flick through your combined stream, and expand items to see action web pages underneath. Best of all, you can interact with the items by retweeting, reposting, emailing and favouriting items right from within the app. Brilliant. It’s even had an update, with a speed boost, new social searching, “Editor’s picks” and other “featured” partners, like Wired.com
That goes a little way to bolstering its “discovery” credentials, but really, finding new content is not its strong suit. You get more Flipboard details here.
But discovery is where Zite excels.
When you first open the Zite app, you have the option of importing your Google Reader or Twitter accounts to get started, or not. If you choose, you can just select any or all of a series of topics, from “World News” to “Mac” to “Gardening”, “Knitting” and so on. If a topic you want isn’t already there, you can search for and include it.
Rather than pre-populate my “Me Mag” I wanted to start from scratch with topics and see how clever the app got at predicting what I like, and how fast it did so. Answer: Oh, it had me pegged in about 15 minutes.
That’s the crux of Zite – the zeitgeist of the zeitgeist app, if you will. It will live and die on its ability to learn what you want to read and pluck it from outside your social stream.
It’s pretty damn good. In one session of about 20 minutes of browsing, after about a five-minute setup, Zite was consistently hitting me with stories that were off my personal “radar” but interesting enough for me to venture past the headline. Probably about every second or third story – which is a pretty good hit rate so quickly, I reckon. And it will continue to learn every time you use it.
On opening Zite, you land on a page called “Top Stories” that scrolls left to right. Choose a topic on the right of screen – or one of the feeds you fed in at the start – and that will expand into the same beautiful mag-style layout. This takes about five seconds, and the result looks quite similar to that of Flipboard, but a little more like a newspaper font-wise.
The learning obviously happens behind the scenes, but you’ll know it’s happening when you aren’t dragging through each Zite timeline so fast.
When you see a story you like, you just tap on the headline and it expands into its own window for reading. This individual “story page” scrolls down, with a sidebar on the right that allows you to select topics or sites you want more of, or just select whether you liked the story or not. Close the window and you’re back in whatever stream you came from.
Two things that will send Zite over the top
1. It has to get faster, Zite needs to get faster to keep up with our tiny attention spans. Take a leaf out of Flipboard’s recent speed upgrade, Ziters. Getting to the stream is slightly slow, but bearable, but individual stories are expanding a little too slowly. Ten-12 seconds is a little slow. I can put up with it, but I don’t want to.
2. Tighter integration with social media streams. The beauty of Zite is that you can find things that you didn’t know about, but when you do you have to be able to bignote yourself and forward them on to those in your social graph. This process is do-able in Zite, but still a bit clunky.
Inside each story you can Share on Twitter or Facebook or email a link to a story, but I’d like to see more Twitter options – maybe direct messages, and searching by hashtags, and Google Reader options – starring items and adding feeds that you’ve discovered in-app are a must.
I’ll still use Flipboard exclusively to wade through my current social stream, but Zite is already my “discovery” app of choice. And it’ll get better the more I use it. (Zite guys: please make it faster).