Zite is a personalized magazine for the iPad. It follows a Pandora.com style work method where it feeds you news pieces based on your preferences, right from the very first selection of articles it provides you. When you download the app, the first thing that you will see when you launch it is the option to have Zite go through either your Twitter feed to see what kind of news links you post, or your Google News Reader to give you your first set of news.They promise not to sell your information or to post on your feed. Whether Zite finds enough information about you from your Twitter account or your Google News Reader or not, you'll then be asked to select all the categories you want your news from. These range from World News, Politics, Pets, Architecture, Psuchology and Mind, Film and TV, Business and Investing and even SxSW right now. If there's a category you want that their list doesn't have, they've given you the option to create it. For instance, if you want news specifically related to scuba diving, you can create the category. You will then be taken to a homepage where you'll be provided with a mix of articles spanning from across your interested sections. You can then click on individual sections to read more articles on those specific subjects. 

The way an article opens in side plus its RHS

The way an article opens in side plus its RHS

Design and User Interface
The design of the app follows your typical magazine formated app. It's clean with black on white, with coloured thumbnails showing in the previews of all the articles. The interface is very simple, intuitive and classy. You swipe to move pages, and when you click on articles, a new window opens up showing the article as it is posted in its source. For instance, an article from the IBNLive.com will show in the preview in Zite's format but when you open it,the article will look exactly as it does on the source website, minus the dashboard and the social networking sharing functions the original site has. This can either be a blessing or a pain depending on your internet connection. You can change the text size (small, medium, large) or font (between Arial and Times New Roman) when you view the article.

The app's welcome screen

The app's welcome screen

On the right hand side, you'll see a thumbs up and a thumbs down. Like Pandora,a thumbs up to an article will make the app show you more articles like it, and a thumbs down, will prevent these from your feed. You can choose whether you want to see more articles from the source or from that particular author, or even more on certain tags and themes in the story. Finally, you can share the article via Twitter, Facebook or email.

The app has a neat layout for article previews

The app has a neat layout for article previews

Features
While the principle of this app is sound and it definitely encourages readership, some of its features don't work as well as promised. For one, the original selection of articles, if enough information isn't picked up from your Twitter feed, seems almost a little too random. The reason I say this is because while checking out a particular category, ('Mac' to be exact), Zite gave me articles written in Greek. The app is presented in English and doesn't ask you for a language selection. Even if you change the language setting on your iPad, Zite will still present to you in English, but not always from English sources. Another problem I had is that custom categories are almost afraid to get too specific. For instance, if you want news on just tides, you'll have to make do with more general categories like 'ocean' or 'geology'. Also, the way the app is currently, it doesn't necessarily give you a variety in news sources. For instance, in the gadgets category, Zite will give you stories from primarily American and British sources (unless, of course, they're in Greek!). It's understandable why they do it but trying to get information on Indian gadgets or Japanese gadgets is a challenge. I'm hoping future updates will bring more variety to the table. 

One thing that boggles me as a reader is what would specifically make me dislike news stories. It can be one thing to dislike reading world news in general but what is it about specific world news stories that can make me say, “I don't like this one type of world news article but keep more coming anyway and I'll see how it goes”. Beyond just the content, I can think of two factors, the source and the author. Zite gives you the option of receiving more news from specific sources, authors and types of content, but doesn't let you block an author or a source. So for instance, if you want to read your news only from 'liberal' news sources, you'd just have to like all the 'liberal' articles you read, without disliking conservative news sources. However, the process of providing you with more news 'similar to' the ones you like seems to work on a learning algorithm. For instance, I liked an article on how Batman was recently discovered as a Yale alum in the Film and TV Section. The app then gave me more news on Batman, news on where upcoming movies will be set and of course, more articles by the same author and source. If you're the kind of person who likes variety in their news however, I would advise you to like a broad range of articles or none at all.

Conclusion
Zite is a free app and it's pretty light (1.2 MB). It works really well as a content aggregator, better, say, than its rival Flipboard (where you can only choose 9 news sources). It can appeal to people who like variety in their news as well as those that don't, which is interesting because it's primary purpose is to act as a filtering app. However, the app currently doesn't offer all the variety it can and therefore selecting which stories you 'like' and 'dislike' can be very limiting, especially if you're someone with broad interests. It also doesn't let you be as specific as you want which again, can be pretty frustrating. It's pretty handy that it's free and that it presents information for free, with no ads! (The makers say they'll worry about making money later). Right now, it's a pretty good news aggregator for the iPad and while I wait for more variety, I definitely do recommend using this app.

Publish date: March 16, 2011 1:58 pm| Modified date: December 18, 2013 7:27 pm

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