Zite vs Flipboard: A fight for the Best Personalized Magazine. Which is best?


Just a few months after iPad was launched we were wowed by a wonderful app called Flipboard. Flipboard was essentially a news reader, but it was the perfect combination of social network integration with a new touch based control interface. Up until this day there is very few apps on the iPad which has such a intuitive interface. In fact it was so good, that Apple named it App of the Year for 2010.

So how does Flipbaord work? The user simply enters his Twitter, Facebook or Google Reader details, and Flipboard will then generate a magazine of sorts which is based on what is going on in those networks. The user can also add Flipboard “sections” which are basically additional tiles which update with information from preferred websites, feeds or featured content. Speaking about featured content – Flipboard was smart to team up with prominent websites and publications to create custom magazine like features. Current featured content partners include Rolling Stone, ELLE, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (yes, really), Lonely Planet etc. Its because of these partners that Flipboard has remained ad-free. Essentially Flipboard relies on feeds from information you tell it to follow, using a traditional newspaper / magazine like structure. Prominent stories get displayed bigger, tweets get only a small mention.

Zite: Personalized Magazine for iPad from zite.com on Vimeo.
But now there is some competition for Flipboard – a new app called Zite launched today that uses a very similiar strategy, but with a few key twists. While the user has the option to enter his Twitter and Google Reader details (not compulsory), Zite is built to introduce new content to you, but not necessarily from sources you have used up until now. It notices which articles you do actually take time to read, and also uses your feedback to learn which stories you enjoy.

The interface might look similiar to Flipboard at first glance, but it does away with the folding pages idea, with the user instead just panning between pages. The guys behind Zite come from the Laboratory for Computational Intelligence at  University of British Columbia in Vancouver – which might explain where Zite gets its algorithms to quickly figure out what you like. Kind of reminds me of that prominent search engine‘s academic beginnings… Zite fixes one of those problems that has many news junkies up in arms – how do you find the most relevant articles to you from the past few hours or days? Sure, you can stick to Google Reader, and then just go through ALL the posts from your favourite sites. But that takes time, and honestly makes you skim through news. Zite fixes this, and gets better over time to try and figure out what you will find good to read.

Seeing as Zite has only been available for a few hours, I still have to form a opinion whether it really does lead to better articles for readers. I have only given feedback on a few articles already (e.g: lets say I do not want to read about US monetary policy, but I am still interested in personal finance), and it has already adapted to my liking. Small things I like include the nicer use of fonts, which does actually improve the readability of articles (or maybe I am just imagining it), and the no nonsense interface. The app is not perfect however – it is quite slow – starting the app up takes a while longer than Flipboard, and every now and then you have to be faced with a “refreshing content” indication, which you need to wait for. Maybe it can also do with a bit more processing power which iPad 2 will fix? Zite also crashed a few times within the few hours I have used it, and has pretty much stopped loading after a while. I reckon its servers are hammered at the moment, and I remember Flipbaord had a similiar release, but Flipboard was smart enough to have a staged rollout to ensure that the user experience was top notch. But I am pretty sure these are all just growing pains on a product that has huge potential.
But right now those small little waits and crashes are just not worth it for me – I will stick to Flipboard until Zite is a bit more polished. If you want to try out Zite, you can get it in the iPad Appstore.
Update: Looks like the traffic to Zite has been a bit much for them. In fact Zite.com is not working right now, but luckily I did have some quality time with the App before it stopped working…