Flipboard is the best known and best funded, but there are others. One that's new to me and is in the news today, for reasons good and bad, is Zite. If you've used or heard of Flipboard, you should check out Zite: it's easier to use and easier to personalize. The trade-off is that it's easy to personalize, but not to customize with a lot of control. It's more like Pandora than it is like iTunes.The iPad was made for magazines but very few existing magazine publishers are making good use of it. Instead, a new class of startups have begun to build magazine-like apps for reading links from around the web.
Zite lets you sign in with your Twitter, Google Reader or (as of tonight) Delicious account and it learns what you like by seeing what you share on those other services. It doesn't display your subscriptions from there, it just uses that information as inspiration. Then it learns from your behavior with the magazine it creates. It's like Pandora for web magazine reading, but smarter.
How Zite Works
Alongside every article in Zite, readers are asked whether they liked that article, whether they'd like to read more on the same topics, from the same publication or by the same author. The interface is really nice and smart.
I love Flipboard for many reasons but one of them is the way it lets me subscribe to any Twitter List as a section of the magazine it makes for me. That means I can build and then subscribe to the freakiest sets of people I can imagine inside my Flipboard. If I can figure out how to make one Twitter list of the staffs of companies like Rdio, Pandora, Spotify and Mog (Streaming Music Service People, I might call it) then I could plug that list into Flipboard and wow would I have an awesome magazine. (I'm working on building that list and I'm going to do exactly that, in fact!)
No such luck when I'm using Zite - but that's probably a wise strategic decision on their part. Almost no one wants to take the time to curate fabulous lists of sources to view through a handy interface - and you don't have to in order to use Flipboard of course - but Zite is just as easy as falling down to use.
As we wrote when we covered Flipboard's big upgrade earlier this month, there's not much algorithm behind that service yet. Zite is all about algorithm and it offers a clear, understandable set of controls to manipulate the input into that system. It may not have the marketing oomph that Flipboard has (Flipboard has raised tens of millions of dollars and its CEO is on the Board of Directors at Twitter) but Zite is likely to appeal to a lot of people.
Trouble With the Law
Of course when you're having fun, the man has got to try and get you down. Today Zite received a legal challenge from a group of big publishers ("Washington Post, AP, Gannett, Getty Images, Time, Dow Jones and many other media organizations" reports Kara Swisher) alleging that "the Zite application is plainly unlawful."
The short version of the problem is that these publishers are upset that Zite offers a fast-loading "reading" version of their content, full text copies of their articles with all the design and most importantly advertising removed. I'm so upset about this that I'm going to wrap this post up about how nice the app is and write up a separate post about how incredibly obnoxious their complaints are. More on that later.