App of the Week: Personalized Magazines

My first App of the Week review for YALSA was about Pulse, one of my favorite iPad apps for creating a personalized magazine from news feeds. Over the last several months several of this category of apps have launched. In this App of the Week column, I thought I’d change things just a bit and review a few of these apps (instead of reviewing just one for the week), note what is unique about each, and provide some ideas on how to choose what to use.

BroadFeed
Cost: 99 cents
This is the newest personalized magazine app with which I’m familiar. The idea is simple, use BroadFeed as a visual way to read through Tweets that include links. (The app only shows Tweets that contain links.) The setup is also simple. The first time you launch BroadFeed you type in your Twitter username and password and the app then imports the most recent postings from your feed.

BroadFeed story viewThe display of BroadFeed is appealing. News is shown in a grid with each story displaying a headline, the source, and a brief description. The stories are organized by popularity. Click on a story to open up the full content and once in the story view it’s possible to post a link to it on Facebook and Twitter or send a link via email. There’s also a “clean” link which shows the story without any extra web design elements which can improve readability.

BroadFeedUnique features of BroadFeed include the image grid. (As shown on the right.) Click on one of the images to see more details and to see a larger version of the image.

Another unique BroadFeed feature is the ability to choose the timeframe for which you want see feed content. The top of the screen provides a drop-down menu so you can select and view content from between the past 6 hrs and the past 2 weeks.

Flipboard
Cost: Free
When Flipboard launched it received quite a bit of buzz for its beauty and functionality. The app was named Apple’s Ipad App of the year for 2010. Over the past several months, Flipboard has made many changes that make the app somewhat different than other apps in this category.

FlipboardThe way Flipboard works is that a user can add a range of content feeds that are shown as separate categories (something like a table of contents) in the Flipboard interface. For example, my table of contents on Flipboard provides access to my Twitter feed; my Facebook feed; and feeds from specific resources such as YALSA, ReadWriteWeb, and Fast Company. I also have specific searches that I’ve setup in Twitter and my Twitter favorites in my Flipboard table of contents. This makes it easy to quickly connect to the specific content in which I’m interested.

The contents of a feed are displayed with images and text across the screen and on some pages there are sidebars of Tweets from those you follow on Twitter. These are Tweets that don’t include links to resources.

Click on a story in the feed and see the original posting, a Tweet for example if from your Twitter stream. You can read the introduction to a story on this screen and swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up the full article. It’s also possible to favorite the article, retweet, reply, email, or open up the content in the browser from this screen.

FlipboardOne of the features of Flipboard that is unique is that within each of the content areas that you follow in the app, you can access different content, either the other feeds you’ve included on Flipboard or content specifically related to Twitter or Facebook. For example, while looking at my Twitter feed in Flipboard I can click on the drop-down at the top and navigate to searches that I’ve saved, my favorites, and so on.

A new feature of Flipboard is the search across social spaces. Type in YALSA, for example, and see a result list that includes Tweets, Facebook posts and pages, Flickr groups and photos, and more. It’s a good way to see content on a topic from across a wide social area.

Pulse
Cost: Free
PulseAs mentioned in the intro to this review, I reviewed Pulse in October as a part of the App of the Week YALSA Blog column. I still use Pulse regularly because I find the ability to setup feeds and read the content in a visual timeline to be useful. I won’t repeat what I wrote in that earlier review but will provide a brief overview of the app.

When you setup Pulse you can add feeds that you want to keep track of. As a matter of fact, you can import the feeds that you follow in Google News Reader into Pulse as a way to get started. It’s also possible to categorize feeds into different sections that you can label/name yourself. And, Pulse makes it possible to save favorite stories in a separate feed.

FlipboardClick on a story in a Pulse feed stream to open it up and read the full content, post on Twitter or Facebook, open in a browser, or send via email.

What is unique about Pulse is that it is very much like a traditional RSS reader but in a visual iPad form. This makes for a seamless transition between something like Google Reader to the iPad visual interface.

Zite
Cost: Free
ZiteZite is another fairly new entry into the personalized magazine space. In some ways it’s the most intriguing and different. The way Zite works is that you setup the app by logging into your Twitter account. Zite analyzes your Twitter feed, who you follow, what you reply to, what you retweet and uses that information to populate your iPad magazine. The magazine isn’t made up of Tweets from those you follow, instead it’s made up of stories, that because of who you follow and what you read look to Zite like they will be of interest. As a result it’s a recommendation-based personalized magazine app.

ZiteOnce the first issue of your magazine is populated, you can read through and start giving thumbs up and thumbs down to stories that you read. This gives Zite the ability to fine-tune the recommendations that it makes. When “inside” a story, Zite also shows categories/tags related to that story and you can select from these in order to let Zite know what you would like to see more of in your feed. And, you can select, “Give me more from…” with the “from” being the author of the publication and the publication in which the article appears. These features, along with the ability to add a table of contents based on categories of interest, make Zite an extremely customizable personalized magazine.

When reading a story, along with the features mentioned above, it’s possible to post to Twitter or Facebook or send an email linking to the story. Zite also keeps track of how many times a story has been Tweeted and provides easy access to opening a story in a browser.

So?
What does this all mean in terms of teens, librarians, and personalized digital magazines? There are a lot of options to choose from and the way you like to consume your feeds has an impact on what you choose. Most personalized magazine apps provide options for Tweeting, posting on Facebook, emailing, and opening in a browser. So it’s really a question of the features outside of those you will want to think about in order to make decisions. Teens and librarians looking for just the right personalized magazine app might consider:

  • Is being able to see feeds, from Twitter to ReadWriteWeb, in an extremely visual form something useful? If so, then BroadFeed and Flipboard are options to check out.
  • Is having a visual version of Google Reader what is most useful? If that’s the case, Pulse might be the personal magazine tool that is just right.
  • Is it important to make sure that everything in a feed is made available and not just what’s most popular or what is recommended from another source? If so, then Pulse is probably the best way to go.
  • Is it useful to have a feed of articles of interest that go beyond the feeds already subscribed to? If yes, then Zite is a good app to look into.

I know it’s hard to keep up. And, I know that in different situations there are different tools that are useful. As a librarian, using one or two personalized magazine apps can be just what you need to keep up without feeling overwhelmed. For teens, these apps can help to keep up on topics of interest (or classroom need) and they can provide extremely visual, interactive, and social ways to connect with content.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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