Google is rumored to be making a news reader app, called “Google Propeller,” that’s kind of like Flipboard. And if unnamed sources are to be believed, it’ll be a leader in the field of Flipboard clones.
That’s right. “Flipboard clones” is pretty much a genre of apps now. AOL has “Editions.” CNN recently bought Zite. Yahoo is working on a reader called Livestand. And then there’s Pulse, which actually preceded Flipboard but never gets the same level of respect.
These apps all use the same basic formula: Gather up the news from a bunch of sources–reputable publications, social media feeds, RSS feeds and individual curators–throw everything into a slick-looking tablet interface (bonus points if it resembles some form of dead-tree media) and present each article in an easy-to-read format.
I hate to be a downer, but enough is enough. What I’ve discovered with these apps is that you spend too much time curating content and not enough time reading it. You’ve got to pick the sources and types of news that you like. You’ve got to create Twitter lists to filter the useful stuff from the junk. You’ve got to “Like” the articles you like so that the algorithms can learn what you like. And every time someone creates a new app, you’ve got to do all this self-curation all over again.
If you put in the effort, the experience can be rewarding. But too often I find myself gravitating toward aggregators with less friction, like Techmeme, Google News or StumbleUpon. Or, I’ll use apps by individual news services, like NPR or the BBC — not because I favor those publications over others, but because they save me the hassle of curating the curators. And a lot of times, I just go straight to Twitter because it’s more fun to be in the thick of it than to slurp up some links from a remote app.
I’m probably just a curmudgeon–Flipboard, after all, has a $200 million valuation according to All Things Digital–but I don’t think we need more personalized news reader apps. We need methods that make all of these apps easier to use out of the box, like taste profiles that follow you from one service to the next. Something like StumbleUpon or My6Sense, but universal. Anything to stop the endless sorting through long lists of news sources, story topics and social media sign-in pages. I’m done.