The case for newsreaders, but not in their current form

Over the past few years, a number people have talked about shifting many of their information consumption from newsreaders and various websites, or perhaps nothing at all, to social media. “My social circles keep me informed,” goes some thinking and, for a short time, I tried this route. But the more I explored, the more I found it limiting in a number of ways. I realized it might be time to revisit the power and flexibility of newsreaders.

Noise

The problem with social that has troubled me the longest is the noise. But even when I’ve gone on follow purges, created lists, and tuned my feeds in other ways, social is, well, social. It’s where people and now even #brands go to hang out, crack jokes, fire off one-liners, and increasingly get into spats, in addition to sharing actual, valuable information.

I think the lowered barrier to entry has become both the blessing and curse of social. It’s easier than ever to share an idea online, which gives more people a voice they’ve never had. But all this chatter and branding and fighting make it too difficult for me to get to the actual news and information I want.

I’m not painting social as a bad thing; it can even be fun at times. But when I want to sit down and read or learn, it’s just… inefficient.

Trends and discovery

Twitter and Facebook made efforts to cut through or curate the noise with ‘trends’ features, but they’re fairly rudimentary. They focus largely on mass media events and empty calorie scandals, and largely aren’t very customizable. I just don’t get much out of them.

Choice

For the most part, Twitter and Facebook don’t offer much variety in their format and tools. If you want to view news in a particular way, or use certain tools to fit information into your workflow, you’re largely out of luck.

Third-party apps built on my social graph are sometimes an option, but my choices and feeds I follow still lead back to their respective motherships. That means I’m mixing news and information brands in with my friends and I’m right back at the noise problem.

The case

I never entirely got rid of my newsreading apps (namely Newsify and Feedly). I deliberately brought them back into my routine about six months ago and rediscovered my appreciation for the control and flexibility they offer.

Newsreaders, at their core, are meant to be an inbox for all the news and information we deem important to us. We certainly don’t need to consume every morsel they catch (besides, it’s impossible), but the point is to have a choice in the tools to capture, skim, read, and act on this information.

Maybe you want condensed headlines you can skim and cherry pick, or maybe you want a full-article magazine to flip through. News feeds can be added to myriad apps and manipulated in a world of ways to suit your needs and workflow.

Plus, it isn’t much harder to publish information and ideas to most news platforms versus social media. But that small amount of extra effort means most people and publications leave the current event one-liners, lunch photography, and quips about our hidden humanity for social media, and use their site’s feed to get straight to the real signal we’re after.

I’m the skimmer type. I like adding a lot of feeds, lightly organizing them into folders based on topic, and skimming for what I want to read. If it sounds like not much has changed since the days of Google Reader or even before, well, it’s true.

This system still works. In fact, in a time of overwhelming noise and few new options to cut through it, I would argue newsreaders are more valuable than ever, especially since Google Reader’s demise opened the doors for innovation to return. But as I wrote previously, there is so much more newsreaders could do to add significant value and empower both publishers and readers.

The open doors

I won’t rehash that entire article and my propositions, but much of it still remains up for grabs. Newsreaders have a number of fascinating opportunities, ranging from building a catalog of our highlights and read stories, to building Fever-like smart systems that can surface the events and topics that are trending among the news sources we care about. Finally, one of the largest opportunities is the ‘Netflix for news’ option that could benefit everyone: readers could get a single, convenient point of subscribing to and supporting the publications they care about, and publishers could gain an easy new source of regular revenue.

Still, if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed but less informed on social, give a newsreader a try. I recommend Feedly and Flipboard if you want a first-party app and service. If you’re new to newsreaders, they both have simple signup processes and good discovery options to get you started. I use Newsify to read and manage my Feedly subscription, though Reeder is a great third-party app too.

Like email, I feel it’s good to have some kind of plan or routine for how often you interact with and consume news. I generally check mine once or twice a day, though less frequently on weekends and busy days. However you roll, I hope you get some good value out of your newsreader.