Thursday, February 16, 2012

Keeping Informed Using A Few Free Apps On Your Mobile Device....

Information. Our computer centric, always connected, world can make you feel as if you are awash in more information than you can possibly absorb while still having a nagging feeling that you are missing interesting, perhaps even important, news about your business and life. I still subscribe to an old fashioned print newspaper. There is something comforting and enjoyable about the simple process of scanning The Wall Street Journal each morning over a cup of coffee. Invariably, I read an article or two about a business, world event, or technology related happening that I would miss without the chance opportunity to wander across the headline and explore further.

My father rather religiously began his day with a morning paper. He would flip through the sections and provide his own commentary on the events of the day. In what seems terribly quaint today, I recall him checking stock prices (from the prior day of course), while imparting his financial advise (which upon reflection was invariably sound) to anyone, or no  one, who might be sharing the breakfast table with him. I haven't checked a stock price in a print paper in over a decade, that is so "20th Century." But I continue to relate to Pop's connection with his paper (and he always read it first!) and the world around him.

Talk to anyone in the world of traditional media and you will no doubt here the prognostications of the end of this quaint morning ritual. I also subscribe to the WSJ Internet and could get my "daily fix" of this paper's reporting on my computer or iPad but it isn't the same. Unless I am traveling, the WSJ web site is used by me as a research tool and "bookmarking" service for articles I find of interest in the print edition (this is a rather expensive electronic "shoebox" but I leave these comments for another time). For me, reading this paper each morning is a great balance of quality, broad based, coverage of areas I find important and interesting, combined with the serendipity of finding nuggets of knowledge which otherwise would likely not cross my path.

So how do you capture this kind of  intellectual exploration using the tools we rely on in 2012? Well, not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time perusing online articles on my iPad, Kindle Fire, iPhone and PCs. My two favorite Apps for daily reading are Pulse and Zite. Currently, both of these tools are free and work equally well on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch platforms (although in my opinion using an iPad is a far superior experience). Pulse also has a great Android App which works essentially identically to the iOS version and is further extending its reach through The Kindle Fire.  (More on this below.)  This is a very competitive space; several companies are vying for your attention and are attempting to personalize the flow of information to you by digitally serving up "personal magazine" experiences. Android tablets and iPads provide the  perfect platform.

If  you aren't familiar with these two readers, I encourage you to give both a try. I view these two news aggregators as being complementary. Zite uses sophisticated algorithms to fine tune the content it feeds you based on general areas of interest which you designate, your actual reading habits (which articles you open and share with others through Twitter), and your feedback to individual news sources (primarily in the form of "thumbs up" and  "thumbs down" ratings of articles which will be especially familiar to TIVO users). The more articles you read through the app, the better tuned the content stream becomes. The company manages to provide a breadth of articles in areas of interest, while keeping a bit of serendipity, to the discovery process. Zite currently comes closest in this roundup to serving up the "Aha" moments I enjoy when stumbling upon an unexpected article in my morning paper or a monthly periodical.

Zite was recently acquired by CNN but I haven't detected any significant changes to the App since the acquisition announcement. Of course this change of ownership is rather recent and CNN may well make changes to this platform in an effort to monetize it. Time will tell if this "marriage" is a good one for users or not. 

Pulse, on the other hand, allows you to follow content streams you specifically identify. You can easily sort your feeds onto pages which make sense to you. Currently, I have pages devoted to Technology Streams, Politics, Finance, and Social Feeds such as Facebook and Twitter.  Pulse has taken a big step forward by allowing you to save your preferences to a profile. By allowing you to log into Pulse on multiple devices you can keep your content organized and consistent. Unfortunately, this ability does not yet extend to The Kindle Fire despite the fact that Pulse is a preferred, default, application which comes pre-installed. (This promised enhancement is one that I am looking forward to and will make Pulse far more valuable to me on The Kindle Fire platform which is a great form factor for this type of browsing.)
Take A Second To Look At Pulse Hints If You Are A New User.

You select streams of content from various featured sources, or specify content from sites which provide RSS feeds (which is a technical format allowing content to be consumed by readers such as Pulse which many sites, including, provide). Shameless plug: In addition to following  through email notification, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, you can easily add our content to your Pulse Stream (just type in our web site's name into an available slot on a Pulse page and presto, you will have easy access to current and past article content)!

Pulse and Zite both offer a variety of links designed to make cataloging and sharing content you wish to keep track of easy. I am a big fan of Evernote. I use this service as my online "shoebox"  (and much more) and often find myself clipping articles of interest from these Apps  to my account for later reference. Both apps also offer social sharing options through Twitter and Facebook. Google+ integration isn't tied directly to these Apps yet, but I expect both companies to add this functionality as soon as the API (application program interface) allowing this type of third party integration is released. You can also forward articles via email.

What if you are constantly on social networks like FaceBook and Twitter? Pulse allows you to view content streams from these sources if you like. However, FlipBoard, which is a pioneer in curating content into beautiful, magazine like, streams, is a better tool for exploring links from these sources. Like the other apps mentioned, Flipboard is free and has apps optimized for the iPad and iPhone form factors. You can also browse numerous pre-defined magazine areas such as Tech, News, Lifestyle and Photos, or add feeds to create your own, completely customized, personal magazine. Very cool....

My Pulse.Me desktop as viewed in the Chrome Browser

If you want or need direct access to saved articles from your computer's web browser, Pulse is currently your only option of this group. Articles you add to your Pulse.Me stream can be reviewed by simply logging into your Pulse Account from a browser.

Of course, if you utilize a program such as Evernote to collect articles from Zite and Pulse, this becomes a non-issue. One of Evernote's strengths is its ubiquitous availability across platforms. Without delving into Evernote in great detail in this post, I encourage you to add this to your arsenal if you haven't done so already. (For five more great communication tools, please read this post.)

Google Currents
Where is Google in this category? Google Reader has long been popular as a RSS tool but the company's relatively recent introduction of Google Currents (free, available for Android, iPhone and iPad), places it more squarely in competition with  Zite and Flipboard. This offering is new and, at least to me, it doesn't have the polish and intuitiveness of the other apps reviewed. I don't expect Google to sit still. Currents will continue to be refined and developed. They have a great deal of quality content linked to this program and I fully expect this category to undergo a great deal of competitive change in the coming months and years.

You have a busy life-- work, family, outside interests-- finding the time to sit back and look at the world around you can be a challenge. Using these tools, you will not only be better informed, but you too will enjoy an "Aha" moment as you page through your personalized information sources.

I don't suspect it will be long at all before Siri, or some other company's digital assistant, will be able to scan these information streams for you and intelligently anticipate articles you will find especially captivating and read them to you in an alarmingly natural voice while you are on the go! What interesting times we live in....

How do you get your daily fix of business and personal information? Have you used any applications not mentioned here to customize your information flow? I invite you to add your comments below.

If you find this article of interest, I invite you to share it through Google+, FaceBook, and Twitter!

I currently participate in the Amazon Associates Program and certain item links included within this post may tie to this affiliate program.

I have a long position in $GOOG

Companies:  Apple, Google, Pulse, Flipboard, Zite, CNN

This commentary is not meant as an endorsement of any company or to provide financial advice.  If the author has any financial interest in any company mentioned at the time of this article’s posting, it will be explicitly noted. I welcome feedback and comments. 

Music Row Tech will never sell, give away or use your personal information with third parties. 

All rights reserved @2012, Music Row Tech (MRT). Any reproduction without the author's consent is prohibited.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with other Music Row Tech readers and subscribers.