Zite for iOS updated to version 2.3

Today Zite is releasing an updated version of Zite, the popular news aggregator app for iOS. According to the release notes the new version brings:

  • We’ve made some changes to the product to serve Google Reader customers without straying from the core philosophy of Zite
  • Zite welcomes new publishers into the fold
  • New users will find their onboarding process streamlined
  • Zite’s power is in our ability to personalize news to your tastes and interests and we’ve made a number of changes to our core algorithm that will further allow you to discover great content

I use Zite every day to find new articles and discover new websites that I’ve never heard about.

(Via Zite Blog)

Can Twitter replace RSS feeds?

Following Apple’s announcement of OS X Mountain Lion one thing we all noticed is the lack of native support for RSS.

Maybe things will change with the GA version of the new operating system but it seems to me that this is not a random omission but rather a clear strategy on Apple’s part to employ alternative technologies to achieve similar results.

Back in 2005 Apple released Safari RSS for OS X Tiger, a browser that was able to read feeds natively.

Instead, in the preview of OS X Mountain Lion Apple has highlighted the close integration with Twitter. That got me curious so I decided to carry out a little experiment. I set to live for 5 days relying solely on Twitter and forgetting about Reeder for Mac and iPhone.

This is my experience.

The challenge

I follow about 60 RSS feeds, and the first step towards my goal was to go through all websites and subscribe to their Twitter updates.

It took me about 45 minutes to finish the task and in the process I also found that three of my favourite blogs didn’t post any Twitter updates. In case you’re wondering I am in the same category. My blog is still not set up to automatically publish a tweet every time I post a new blog post[1].

Most notably I was unable to find a Twitter account for Google Apps Status Dashboard and Picasa Web Blog.

To make things more confusing, not all websites advertise their Twitter accounts on their page (mondaynote.com and resoph.com for example).


Day 1

That was hard, it was almost like quitting smoking cold turkey (I actually did it six years ago so I know what I am talking about). Without my trusted RSS feeds I felt confused, at times lost.

The main problem that I encountered was that Twitter delivers information in sequential order. You have to go through the timeline looking for the website you want to read. Of course you can setup saved searches but it looks to me that the standard division of an RSS reader in folders and subfolders helps you find the most relevant information faster than the Twitter timeline.

Day 2 and beyond

I worked from home, a luxury that I have whenever I don’t travel. I usually keep my Mac beside my work laptop and on this particular day I made sure to be notified by Growl of any new tweet.

It turned out to be not too bad at all. Quite surprisingly, on day two I already got used to reading the news on Twitter.

I actually started liking a lot the instant updates and felt that a tweet every few minutes didn’t feel that invasive at all.

What I found really annoying was the inability to save some tweets to Instapaper. It took me only a few minutes to find out that you cannot do that from the official Twitter app for Mac but you can do it quite easily using Twitterrific. After that change I immediately felt that that software gave me a completely new level of productivity.

I soon realized another annoyance. The missing synchronization between timelines on different devices. Say you read your timeline up to a certain point on your Mac, then leave the desk and a few minutes later you want to pick up where you left but from your iPhone. If the timeline linked to your Twitter account were synced across devices you could do that. If there’s no way to sync the timelines you have to manually find the last tweet you read.

Coming from the excellent Google Reader sync engine I could not believe that I wasn’t able to sync the timeline across apps.

It turns out that the option exists and comes in the form of Tweet Marker API. Once I enabled it both on the desktop and iOS version of Twitterrific, things started feeling right again.

Advantages over RSS

I particular appreciated:

  • The instant updates.
  • The interaction with users.
  • That Twitter feels like a lighter communication medium than RSS.
  • The ease to to forward (i.e. retweet) to your readers some interesting tweets.

Disadvantages over RSS

I’ve found several disadvantages. In random order:

  • Anonymity or better the lack of it when you use Twitter.
  • The sequential way of consuming information.
  • Not all websites have a Twitter account that posts all updates.

I find it interesting that I have actually found more advantages than disadvantages using Twitter over RSS. This is interesting and I think partly explains why Twitter is so popular.

As Shawn Blanc already pointed out in one of his posts, the average user is more familiar with Twitter than RSS:

For the average person to get RSS updates they not only have to know what RSS is, they have to know that they can download an RSS reader. But someone who has signed up for Twitter and sees the CNN Breaking News account can easily follow it and begin getting updates from CNN pushed to their Twitter inbox.

Alternatives to RSS

I wonder if – despite my love for RSS – we are actually coming to a point where this technology is going to be deprecated. In a way RSS is a static technology. It doesn’t really allow you to interact and discover new sources of information.

Maybe the real alternative to RSS is not Twitter, which remains a very good service, but the new generation of information aggregators that have sprung up in the recent months.

I am talking about apps like Pulse, Zite, Flipboard etc. These apps have a few aces up their sleeves:

  • They isolate the user from the mess that the Internet has become.
  • They fully embrace the appification of the Internet itself.
  • They help you discover new sources of information thanks to the smart engines that learn from what you like to read.
  • Preserve the anonymity of the reader.

In a way Apple has the interest to encourage users to abandon an aging technology like RSS in favor of mono-task apps that curates, aggregates and learn your tastes. One day the role of news aggregator could even be done by an official Apple app, who knows?

What is your take? How do you consume information these days? Have you changed methods to discover new sources of information?

  1. This is something that I have meant to change many times but I always find it at the bottom of my priority list.  ↩