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Needed: The Busy-Person’s News Reader

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Albert Wegner (from Union Square Ventures) has a great post up where he talks about  the need for an Opposing View Reader, a news reader where you can see stories from different angles, with different opinions. While it’s a very important problem (and a really tough one to solve!),  we also wanted to draw attention to a similarly urgent issue – the need for a “Busy-Person’s” Reader. But first, let’s debunk a myth…


The Perfect News Reader

The usual review or feedback of a product in the news space ends up being something like this:

it’s great for use-cases X & Y, but I won’t use it for all my news reading because of reason Z“.

Ever since we’ve been in the news reading space, we’ve seen this common theme of the “Perfect Reader” that should exist, but nobody has built it… yet!

It’s arguably understandable why people could expect a perfect reader — lots of industries are like this: social networking = Facebook, search = Google, news = ??? — but  after talking to news readers, from casual Twitter users to “1000-feeds-need-to-read-them-all” junkies, we believe there’s no such thing as a perfect reader. It doesn’t exist . News reading behaviours are too diverse! On average, we’ve found that people actually have 2-4 news sources that they use daily to get their news, in very different ways. For example, it could be Twitter for real-time news, Reddit for funny pictures and cool comments and Summify for when you’re busy and just want to be on top of what’s happening… whatever the mix is that suits you, we think it’s OK! It’s OK to have more than one tool in your news toolbox, and it turns out that’s how most people actually consume it in the offline world as well: newspaper, TV, radio, etc.

Why a “Busy-Person’s” Reader?

It all starts from the explosion in social sharing that’s happening on the Internet right now. There’s lots of content, growing at an exponential rate, and an increasing focus on real-time breaking news, whatever is happening NOW. Well, that means a lot of interruptions and I think we all know that interruptions and frequent context switches significantly affect productivity, especially in activities that require a high level of concentration (most modern jobs).

At the same time, nobody wants to be left out of the “loop” and not be aware of what’s going on today in the (my) world. So how do you balance lots of information, constant interruptions and the need to still be productive during the day? With a “Busy-Person” Reader, of course!

We think Seth Godin explained it best  (Day old news is fresh enough):

The value of breaking news (news = whatever is new to you) is dramatically overrated, and the cost of keeping up with what someone else thinks is urgent is just too high.

If it’s important today, it will be important tomorrow. Far more productive to do the work instead of monitoring what’s next.

We’d like to hear what do you think. Is there a need for a “Busy-Person’s” Reader? If so, what would it look like? We obviously have some ideas on the subject (hint: check our homepage), but we’d really love to hear other opinions.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rohan Jayasekera #

    I’ve felt the need for a Busy Person’s News Reader for a long time (though not as much since the arrival of Summify). What I want (and may build someday) is a reader that uses whatever time I happen to have, whenever and wherever I happen to have it. Here’s what it would do:

    (1) Remember which stories I’ve seen, and don’t show them to me again.

    (2) Show me only the top 3 stories (this number is user-adjustable) and let me zoom in for more detail as desired. If I tap Next (which I’ll do only if I have time for more), show me the next 3. I’ll keep tapping Next only as long as I have spare time available and find the stories interesting (they’ll get less interesting as the highest stories get used up).

    (3) Determine what is “top” based on several factors: how new it is, how important it appears to be according to signals from the Internet (including what Summify looks at), and my own preferences. Most people don’t state preferences, so this includes implicit preferences, e.g. which stories I’ve historically zoomed in on is a good clue. If I do want to state preferences, those should be respected, e.g. I don’t like sports but still want to see important stuff, so on the Settings page I move the Sports slider most of the way to the left but not all the way, resulting in a long-term average of 5% sports stories — I’ll rarely see sports but I’ll still find out who won the World Series — and the other sliders automatically move proportionately to the right.

    (4) Unless the news reader is being used with a single source (a newspaper might want to distribute such a reader for use with only its own content), stories are aggregated across sources so that I only see a story once, with the version chosen according to my preferences (e.g. I like NYT and I dislike Fox News, as indicated implicitly and/or explicitly).

    I’d use this reader whenever I had some time available; even just a few minutes waiting for the bus or whatever would be fine. It would be available on all my devices, and if I’d read a story on one device then no device would repeat it. If I didn’t use the reader for a week, I wouldn’t miss anything important, as any big stories that came out during my time away would be shown: they’d have enough points to counteract the loss of points due to age.

    October 5, 2011
    • Mircea Paşoi #

      Thanks for the details Rohan, that’s very insightful. Hopefully we’re not far off from your ideal Busy-Person reader :)

      October 5, 2011
  2. Gotta say that for iOS, Feeddler Pro comes close to perfect. Very customizable, great Google Reader intergration, plays well with Pinboard, Twitter, Facebook, Instapaper, RIL, Tumblr, etc.

    October 8, 2011
    • Robin Campbell #

      Thanks for sharing Voodoo, we’ll take a look at it.

      October 11, 2011
  3. As busy as I am these days, I have little time for reading. Not to say that I don’t like reading, but I agree that sometimes what other people think is urgent, isn’t relevant to my interests. I think that a reader that I could customize even more, would be great.

    October 10, 2011
    • Robin Campbell #

      What sort of customizations do you feel would give you that relevant content James?

      October 11, 2011
  4. I see you don’t use the power of social websites like FB on your site.
    You can get big traffic from social sites on autopilot using one useful tool, for more details search in google for:
    Alufi’s Social Automation

    March 21, 2015

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