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Meet Zite: an iOS News Reader

Last summer, Jason introduced us to Flipboard, an iOS app which gathers content from a variety of social media feeds, including Facebook and Twitter (if you choose to link your accounts). Since then, Flipboard has become one of my favorite apps, both on the iPad and iPhone, because it allows me to see what other people in my circles are reading without having to visit all the different individual sites. It’s a kind of social media one-stop media shop.

So when I learned about Zite, a new reader app that “gets to know you,” in order “to deliver your personal slice of the Zeitgeist,” I was skeptical. The idea that social media adapts itself to user needs and preferences is enough to make many of us a bit nervous: “Gets to know me how, exactly?” I wondered. “And why?”

My curiosity was piqued, in no small part because a tiny corner of my brain still mourns the loss of Tivo, the DVR interface I came to love during graduate school. Tivo allowed users to rate their favorite shows by giving them “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” It would then recommend other shows based on these preferences. The more you rated, the more accurate the recommendations. You could even tell it to record recommendations for you if there was space available on the hard drive. I’ve since given up my Tivo in favor of the less expensive DVR option afforded by the cable company, but I do miss those recommendations. Thanks to them, I was introduced to Homicide: Life on the Street (in reruns at the time) as well as a few other shows I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

So with a mixture of skepticism and nostalgia, I decided to install Zite and try it out.

I’m very glad I did.

Zite, owned by CNN, is like Tivo for news. It gathers data from the web via a sophisticated search engine called Worio (this article from ReadWriteWeb explains how in detail) to factor in what other people in your feeds (be it Twitter, Delicious, or other) are reading and come up with content for you. Users can rate articles (again via “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”) and also further refine preference by author (i.e. Send me more content by this author) or keyword.  So, for example, if you were reading an article on the rumored-to-be-forthcoming iPad 3 and found it interesting, you might like to receive more articles on Apple gadgets. If so, you could tell Zite to retrieve more content by the author of the piece. Again, the more you rate, the more accurate the preferences are.

Users select from a number of preset categories such as you would find in most major newspapers: Art & Culture, Business, Education, Fashion, Film & TV, Health & Fitness, Music, Sports, and Technology.  When I started using the app, it was no surprise that my feed was filled with articles about higher education and technology. Over the last few weeks, however, my feed has shifted based on my selections and ratings to also include many articles about literature and books, dogs, fitness, and running.

The app allows you to save articles to Read it Later, Instapaper, Delicious (which is still not dead yet!), or Evernote. It also allows you to share content on Facebook and Twitter, and you can send links via email.

The app is available on both the iPad and iPhone, and while the iPhone interface is good, it only allows users to rate with the thumb up/down system. The iPad interface is better because in addition to the thumbs up/down, it allows for more specific ratings by topic, author, and source.

I’ve used Zite now for several weeks, and it has quickly become my go-to app for news and media. I still use Flipboard and visit other dedicated news sites for specific information, but Zite always has several pieces to interest me on topics I would otherwise spend more time scouring the web to find.

Have you tried Zite? Do you have other favorite apps for news? Please share in the comments section!

[Creative Common licensed image by Flickr user Search Engine People Blog]

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