I think my RSS news reader is smarter than your Al Gore rhythm

(Sidenote: On SmallBusiness.com, I’ve written about the new Getty embed feature like the one I’ve posted above.)

The Verge has an interesting take on the acquisition earlier this week of the mobile app owned by CNN, Zite, by Flipboard, another app that does the same thing as Zite, but differently and with greater success (apparently).

Here’s a clip from the piece:

“The premise of apps like these is that they will find interesting articles for you that you never would have seen otherwise….And yet for all the millions spent and the machine-learning algorithms that have been built, none of them have improved on the big portals — CNN, The New York Times — or social networks like Twitter or Facebook, which bring you both the news and the conversation happening around it. Newsreading-app developers hire PhDs to do the easiest thing imaginable — find you something interesting on the internet that you haven’t already seen — and then beat you over the head with it, bludgeoning you with an endless barrage of links that never feel half as personalized as they’re made out to be.”

I especially agree with the writer on two things: (1) Twitter does a good job of finding me things I would have missed if I didn’t use Twitter (along with lots of links to cat videos, but still) and (2) I agree with the premise that PhDs don’t seem to be unlocking the secret of relevancy and context necessary to make their algorithms better than what I can hack together with other tools. It’s much like the way advertising “retargeting” algorithms consistently misinterpret why a web user might surf by a product without having any interest in purchasing it).

Where I disagree with the analysis is this: There is a technology that allows people to personalize and customize a flow of news that’s been around since the Mesozoic era of the web. It’s called RSS and is an often misinterpreted part of the infrastructure of the web that enables us to access content as a real-time flow of news, audio, video, etc. (Despite the never-ending predictions that somehow RSS will die, I’ve written before why that’s never going to happen.)

Ironically, the Verge piece not only fails to mention RSS, it fails to even mention that Flipboard is a self-proclaimed RSS newsreader.

But the thing is…

Flipboard, doesn’t look like an RSS newsreader. The vast amount of coverage it has received (and that’s a vast amount) has focused on its user interface that replicates, in skeuomorphic fashion, the conventions of a print magazine, specifically (thus, its name) the virtual flipping of pages.

I’ve always considered it a bit ironic that web-based tech and media writers would buy into the notion that the ability to turn a page is the killer feature of magazines that should be ported over to the web. I would think, rather, that great writing and graphics that work together to tell great stories would be.

Setting the stage for a real showdown

So here we are in 2014 and we’re still looking for ways that the web was supposed to do something promised to us by Al Gore when he invented the internet: Customize and personalize content and deliver it up to us with our morning coffee and toast.

For a moment, I’ll ignore that this blog has 12 years of me talking about this topic and pretend that we are starting out today and no one has ever actually thought of the hundreds of ways that exist for people to do this. In other words, let’s pretend to be like the Verge article.

Let’s make this a show down between what we will pretend are “brand new” personalized, customizable news catching filters created by people who weren’t around for endless iterations of this concept.

Here’s what we can do to test this brand new, never thought of before, “algorithm vs. human” theory.

(1) First, do whatever it is that you do now to catch up on whatever topic you turn to the web for. (Sort of like what scientists might call, “the control.”)

(2) Set up a TweetDeck account (or use the one you already have) for tracking a few hashtags (Here’s how.). If you are willing to spend five minutes learning to do it, set up some lists of Twitter users or topics you’d like to follow.

(3) Set up a Flipboard account (it’s an iPad/iPhone, Android app) and follow the standard instructions of how you should subscribe to the topics. Some of the instructions will result in you subscribing to an RSS feed, but they (wisely, perhaps) have hidden the “how it works” and are focusing on the “what it enables.”

(4) Set up an account on Feedly.com (an RSS newsreader with an interface and instructions you’ll understand that has an app version and is also available in a browser). While there are other new-fangled RSS newsreaders that are far superior to Google’s now defunct newsreader, Feedly is what I use, so I’m most familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

(5) (Optional) Set up a Zite account (like, Flipboard, an app) and let their algorithms do their magic. It looks like Flipboard but the test is over the algorithm vs. manually choosing news sources.

(6) (Optional) Download the new app from Facebook called Paper and see their version of recommending news stories based on the preferences of people who were your kindergarten classmates.

I know that I’ve already revealed what I think you’ll discover is best among this group for  delivering a consistent flow of the most relevant and personal content, in the most efficient way. I trust the network of smart news catchers I’ve put together manually more than those that aggregate their suggestions by algorithm.

On Chris Brogan’s podcast, taking about customer media, content and if living in Nashville is part of why I do things the way I do

humanway-logoRecently, Chris Brogan invited me onto his very popular podcast where we talked a lot about how companies and businesses are using media and content to connect directly with their customers.

It’s sometimes challenging to explain what I do (especially to people with tweet-sized concentration), but Chris’ approach helped me come close. If you are one of the 12 readers of this blog, you may find it of interest.

Or not.

Either way, I had fun talking with him.

My predictions for the future of print magazines

Published in 1741, Ben Franklin's General magazine shut-down after six issues, making it the first example in the U.S. of why there is no future in print magazines.
Published in 1741, Ben Franklin’s General magazine shut-down after six issues, making it the first example in the U.S. of why there is no future in print magazines.
On the Hammock blog, a post I wrote was added this morning that outlines 14 predictions I have for print magazines. It’s rather long, but I felt the need to collect several threads into one post.

Several of the themes will sound familiar to the 12 readers of RexBlog.


“I’ve found that doubts about the future of print magazines typically occur when the people who say, “I love reading the newspaper in print” realize they spend more time keeping up with news via a screen than they ever have with print. Or, more noticeably, when they discover the practicality of reading books on a screen. One day they start thinking about how their personal reading habits have changed, and they begin to wonder what’s going to happen to the daily newspaper or print magazines they never look at anymore.

“The personal experience these people are having with digital and print media is a good indication of what the “beginning” of the future of media is.”

I will re-post it here later, but we’re tweaking (and by “we’re tweaking,” I mean “not me” but the person who is capable of doing it) some CSS code so that the “tooltips” (the pop-up messages that appear when you hover over a link) that are in the Hammock.com version will work here.

Until then, you can read it here.

[Graphic: Published in 1741, Ben Franklin’s General Magazine.]

Marco Arment’s Master Plan to Revolutionize the Future of Publishing

The MagazineActually, Marco, the developer of Tumblr and creator of Instapaper, says he doesn’t have a plan, nor is his new creation, The Magazine, a model for “how it’s done.”


“A publication’s app should be designed and built with purpose and consideration. The Magazine works because I based decisions not on what everyone else was doing, but on what would be best for this magazine. Every publication has its own unique needs, audience, economics, and style, so their apps should reflect that.”

While Marco Arment may not have a master plan, the things he does without a plan are far more intriguing than are those attempted by people who wear suits and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on what they think are master plans.

Yes, the web and mobile apps are like TV shows (and magazines)

Over the weekend, the smart and successful VC Fred Wilson used the metaphor of TV shows vs. TV networks to suggest that investors (and the rest of us) sometime (often?) confuse the significance of various kinds of web-based startups.

Anyone who has used the internet for more than five years should immediately recognize what he’s suggesting. Some things we believe will define the future — that are so disruptive they will do away with institutions that have been in place for centuries — turn out to be I Love Lucy or MySpace.

If I were to debate this topic (and I’m not), my position would be this: In this metaphor TV is “the internet.” Everything else is a TV show.

In 2008, I wrote a post that applied the TV vs. TV show metaphor to magazines.  Magazines start, magazines die, was my point. Don’t confuse a magazine’s death with the death of magazines. (I have reposted it in full at the bottom of this page.)

It’s a part of a continuous theme of this blog: There is technology (or a communications medium) and there are things that one can do with that technology (or medium). When we start suggesting that a business model is the same as the technology that enables it, we head down a path of confusing TV shows with TV networks.

As Fred knows, there is lots of money to be made from investing in internet companies that seem like TV networks, but are merely TV shows. They can be massively successful as investments (again, as he has repeatedly demonstrated). But only time will tell us if Google, or Facebook, or Twitter are today’s I Love Lucy.

But come to think of it, TV as it was when I Love Lucy first aired, is hardly around anymore.

Here is what I wrote, in full, on that post dated November 2, 2008 and titled, “Magazines start, magazines die.”:

In this week’s Advertising Age, there is an article with the headline, “Will Print Survive the Next Five Years? ” And while the author of the piece provides either/or scenarios of how the current down-market will play out, the most graphic scenario (as the headline suggests) is a Print Apocalypse where advertisers leave magazines for the web, and never return.

I have a suggestion for the author of the article.

Get Advertising Age’s president and editor-in-chief Rance Crain to tell you the story of how Advertising Age got started. He’s told me the story — and I was spellbound.

Make sure you get the specifics of the dates, times and context of its creation. You will hear about a trade publication that was created a few months after the stock market crash of 1929. That’s right, after . You’ll hear about a trade publication startup whose formative years occurred during an economic Depression in which one-out-of-four Americans was unemployed.

It is a story of audacity and passion — and creative financing.

It is a story set in a time when economists and writers were suggesting capitalism itself could soon be dead. But despite that context and those fears, it’s a story about a man who started a publication about the ball-bearings of capitalism — advertising.

But yes, magazines do die

As much Kool-Ade as I drink and serve about social media and web marketing, I am less-and-less convinced by the death-of-print crowd. Again, listen: certain publications will die. I’ve pulled the plug on some, myself. No doubt, I will again in the future.

But I’m talking about the medium , not a specific magazine title — or even category.

You know how every season on network and cable TV, there are new shows premiered and other shows cancelled. Of course you know that. That’s because you’ve experienced it every year of your entire life. On TV, they even celebrate the new (without mentioning the death of the show it replaces). Just because series get cancelled, would you ever see an article suggesting network and cable TV are going to die in five years? Even if a network dies or — as they do — a cable network bombs, would you see an article suggesting the entire medium of TV is going to soon be dead? Heck, what will we do with all those flat screen TVs we’re buying if that happens?

As I have written on this blog continuously for the past eight years, the same thing happens with magazines. Magazines get started. Magazines die. It’s the whole circle of life thing. But for some reason, those who should know better confuse the closure of a magazine with the end of an entire medium.

As much as I personally do not include print newspapers in my life, even I don’t think they’re going to completely die. Become something else, yes. But die? As for magazines, I’ve said here for a long time, news weeklies and a great number of mass-marketed magazines will die — as they have done since the beginning of magazine time. And magazines like TV Guide (the listings part) will die. And trade publications that focus on breaking news and the transactions of their industry — like Advertising Age, for example — will find that the web is a better medium than print. Some day — and I think it will be a long time from now — Advertising Age may even be a web-based only product. But I’ll bet it won’t be in the next five years.

But even as those magazines die, new, tightly focused and well produced magazines will fill the vacuum created by the departure of such publications. Next season, there will be new titles on the newsstand — or sent to you by your association, employer, favorite cause, etc.

Don’t believe me?

The Advertising Age piece was inspired by lay-offs in the print media world last week. (Note to writer: There were layoffs in every industry last week.) But guess what? In the past few weeks, 52 new magazines have been started according to Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine. And that’s up from 36 starts during the same period last year.

Some won’t make it into their second year. Just like on TV.