There has been a lot of talk over the past year about how the emergence of tablets and e-readers were going to change the way print media is produced, delivered, and is consumed. One of the exciting things about getting an iPad over the holiday was being able to take the types of things I enjoyed and needed to read off of my computer (a lean-forward reading device) and into the iPad (a lean-back reading device). Gathering news and staying on top of information relating to my field and interests is an important part of my development as a professional, but also as a citizen of our world, and the iPad is becoming my primary tool for getting that information. Of course, there has been a lot of discussion about how traditional magazines and newspapers would have to reformat to fit this new device. However, I think that many new apps have demonstrated that information is gathered through means other than through top-down methods: our relationships and social networks are where many of us our now gathering our information.
The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s foray into tablet print media, is the first attempt to create a fully functioning magazine developed just for the iPad. You can’t get it at a newsstand or delivered to your front step: it arrives daily when you open up the app on your iPad. It has its own staff of writers, its own sections and topics, and produces content much like any other newspaper. The only thing is that each article and segment is designed to be used on the iPad.
FlipBoard is a slightly different way to consume your news: this app takes news you’ve chosen on your RSS reader, or the links posted by your friends on Twitter or Facebook, and segments them into a magazine-like format. It is updated based on how often your RSS and social media timelines are updated, and the content is chosen by you and your friends. In actuality, it is a more advanced RSS reader, allowing you to consume your content in a user-friendly way.
Zite is the newest of these news-consumption readers, and operates in a third way: not only does it take articles from your Twitter feed and your RSS reader, but it also categorizes the items by topic, and then finds articles elsewhere that you might enjoy based on your topics. You can then vote on that content, telling the app what you like and didn’t like, and it will customize your paper for the next time. This is an even more interesting way to read the news, because it not only exposes you to the content you know you already enjoy, but helps you to branch out and discover new things.
These three types of news consumption is an interesting example of not only the direction technology is moving, but also the way in which information is being democratized. While The Daily is developed to work with the new technology of the iPad, the content is not user-generated: The Daily decides what is relevant and what is news. This is still an old model of news. FlipBoard let’s you choose the news through your RSS Feed, Facebook friends, and Twitter Followers, and is really just a different platform to read items you have already opted to receive. Its connection to social media sites brings in the social element of news: you get content from people you trust.
Zite, however, is an entirely different kind of news delivery. Not only is it based on what you choose through RSS, and what your friends choose through Twitter, but it also lets you tell it what you like and don’t like out of that content, and other content around the web. Therefore, your magazine is built by a much larger community, with you at the controls. Every time you open the app, you have a customizable magazine at your fingertips that is always changing and growing based on your interests and likes. It certainly doesn’t jive with the forms of traditional media: imagine reading an article in GQ and it telling you that there’s another article like it in Newsweek. That would never happen. With Zite, these types of recommendations can happen, allowing for more control in and input by the user into the content of their news.
Certainly, I’m not saying that traditional forms of news or journalism aren’t important: they are critical to our society. What I am saying is that there are many different ways for news and information to be transmitted and collected by individuals. The combination of new reading technology such as the iPad, the amazing amount of user-generated content through blogs, the increasing value social media allows us to place on getting information from people we trust, and the ability for us to provide input about what we like and dislike makes traditional methods of dispensing news obsolete.
As people who produce content for the web through blogging, particularly of those writing about science, this gives us an added responsibility: what we produce can be thrown into anyone’s everyday consumption of news and information. We have to make sure our content is good and reflects our positions clearly and professionally, because it may be someone’s primary source for gathering information.
Let me know what you think, what other apps you have discovered, or how else you get your news and information!