My mind goes to Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now; “Charlie don’t surf!” Okay, so this is a bit less dramatic but I have to admit that I don’t surf either. I used to. But I don’t anymore.
My first contact with the web is in the morning via email. I scan it for any “fires” and then move on. But I don’t stay in a browser. Nope. I open Zite, a customized reading app on both my iPad and iPhone. Not only do I not surf; I don’t even use a proper computer anymore. My choice is mobile and my access point is an aggregating app which brings the web to me.
Zite dubs itself (rather humbly In my opinion) a personalized magazine and is owned by CNN. It’s much more than that. About a year ago I provided the app with my credentials for Twitter and Google Reader, which I use to aggregate the RSS feeds of sites I like. I made sure both accounts were stocked with worthy Tweeters and the feeds of all my must-have sites by category. That took a couple hours and is an ongoing process. I then added a few sections via the Zite interface itself and, voila, Zite produces a constantly updated “magazine” complete with a personalized table of contents. I get abstracts for articles that are trending in each of my areas of interest. I can then open the full article, read it, save it, share it, etc. I can also ask to get more articles like that one. And so on and so on…the app grows smarter. I’ve tweaked it a couple times, recently by adding my “Read it Later” (now “Pocket”) account credentials. But for the most part the app is so smart about what I want that I just sit back and consume. For what it is worth, I also use Flipboard in a similar manner but with a tilt toward my personal life and general news (whereas I keep Zite pretty work-focused).
Why does this matter? Well, it’s interesting to me that I use the web about 10% of the time that I am interfacing with content. And, within that 10%, I primarily use tabs that preload or I search and retrieve via Google. I would estimate that less than 2-3% of my time online is spent actually following a trail and discovering. I’m not saying this is a good thing, just that it’s interesting to me.
It’s also apparently interesting to Twitter, who just announced that Flipboard CEO Mike McCue has stepped down from their board, just as they begin to lock out several services — LinkedIn among them — which leverage Twitter’s API to pipe “content” into their own interfaces. Simultaneously, Twitter is enhancing its own interface to offer enhanced, media-rich Tweets. It only stands to reason that Flipboard will be next on the list to get cut off from the Twitter pipe. And whither Zite? Oh, no!
Basically, I’ve been using sites and services as pipes into interfaces of my choice. This has been happening online for years but few cared when the RSS/Google Reader combination was the province of content-aggregating geeks. Now, it feels like it is going mainstream probably for three primary reasons:
- The explosion of tablets and mobile access — lightweight aggregation via app fits the environment
- The proliferation of worthwhile services and content providers — Twitter, Facebook, sharing sites, news sites, etc.
- The beautification of the “RSS-to-Reading” experience — Zite and Flipboard are seamless, gorgeous, and useful
The result: sites and services are realizing they need to hold eyeballs like mine and not merely serve the plumbing function. What they do remains to be seen but I suspect I may have to surf once again.
What about you all? I’d love to know how you gather and consume information.