One of the main things I use my tablet is to trap information as it streams by. My primary tools is Tiny Tiny RSS, which is where I put my own custom RSS feeds and specific sites I want to follow. But I try to avoid having a filter bubble. The trend in many news reading apps, though, is towards a social-based feed. In other words, the people you follow on social networks like Facebook or Twitter generate your news. Apps like Flipboard or Circa are examples of the ones I’ve tried that don’t really break out of the filtering I’m trying to avoid. I don’t use Facebook and follow very few people on Twitter and their news selections aren’t really that useful.
Google Currents & Google Play Newsstand
One app I have started to use is Google Currents. It is a bit like an RSS reader in that you subscribe to particular channels and then you read them one at a time. The publishers who create channels tend to be mainstream media but you can follow news like The Guardian, NPR, or LA Times for a wide selection of stories. There are also science and technology publisher channels – Techdirt, GigaOM – that I wouldn’t normally follow but sometimes have interesting content.
The downside is that there are a limited number of useful channels and the content is not as thick as it is on their actual web sites. This isn’t a problem but you can find that, once you’ve read content, there’s nothing to read the next time you check back. Yes, I check back a lot.
Google Currents still exists as a separate app but the functionality has been rolled into a new app, called Google Play Newsstand. It replaces the standalone Google Play Magazines app and is an attempt to pull a variety of free and paid news sources together.
Initially, my reaction to Newsstand was lukewarm. First, while it imported my Google Currents subscriptions, the default is to give you the broader news. And it’s a bunch of unnecessary, additional junk, as far as I’m concerned. While I don’t want a filter bubble, I also don’t want to read entertainment or sports news. The Newsstands defaults to a “Read Now” presentation of the news even if you have customized your sources.
The upside of Newsstand is that there is more content available than in Currents, or at least I found new news sources. At the same time, I needed to unsubscribe from some news sources that Google thought I’d like. It had added me to iVillage Canada and Cottage News. I suppose this is because I live in Canada, and should only be glad that there was no Breaking Maple Syrup News feed that they could also have applied.
I stumbled upon the silo reading interface – that I prefer in Google Currents – in Newsstand. Just as with the Google Play app store, your “my news” can be found in the pop-out left menu like “my apps”. Once you find that, your subscriptions are presented as a long page of icons. Click on an icon and you get the full Newsstand content from that publisher.
Google Newsstand is much more a blending of the Google Currents interface and a great amount of content from the publisher’s Web site. It continues the greying-out of read news, so that you don’t revisit a story more than once. Google Currents does not do a good job of deduping content so I’m hoping this will improve in Newsstand. I haven’t used it enough to notice yet.
It also enables you to subscribe to your RSS feeds but, like many of these readers, requires you to subscribe one at a time. And that process looks clunky. Since I’ve got a strong RSS feed reader, I’ll stick to the pre-built channels.
I recently came across News360, which is unrelated to Law360. It has both an Android and iOS app and is a nice news reader that also doesn’t rely on RSS but, instead, on channels you select. There appears to be some concern about its future – this piece in 2012 likes the app but wonders about the business model. But the company appears to use both manual content curation to build topics as well as technology and search algorithms. My experience so far has been that its content has enabled me to drill further down into interesting topic areas and unearth sites that I know about but wouldn’t otherwise follow.
For example, the screenshot above shows the Data Mining topic. It grabs from a wide variety of places and, while some of the news isn’t always accurate, it’s not dependent on the term “data mining” appearing in the content. The news squares rotate, so you can rock a square backward to see a longer abstract of the article. You can rock a square forward to see tools for sharing the article – if you’re a drive by sharer – and also to turn off (mute) a source or indicate, to the curators, that the article doesn’t fit the category.
If you select an article, you see a longer abstract of the piece with a selection of images related to the post down the right side. News360 has built a web browser into the reader, so you can click on a small view of the original article to pop it open on the article’s home site. This is nice functionality, since you stay within the app, but I found that the browser doesn’t always handle content well. This has more to do with web sites that constantly refresh as they add new advertisements, and you end up returning to the top of the page each time it happens.
I’m on the fence about whether to use Google Play Newsstands or to stick with Currents. Now that I know how to get to my silo view of a particular content publisher, the additional publishers and broader content makes it look like a better choice than Currents. But News360 is now also a mainstay for me, digging into corners of the web to present news I’m interested in but wouldn’t otherwise have come across.