The Consumer In Me Likes Zite; The Producer?

Well, that was quick. About a month after Zite launched its “personalized iPad magazine” a slew of big-name publishers slapped the appmaker with a cease and desist letter. My first thought (and quick rant to our editor Staci D. Kramer): why? It’s not much different from the likes of Flipboard and even the Twitter iPad app.

Keywords: not much different — that is, seemingly so.

What Zite is doing wrong, unlike Flipboard and Twitter, is that it’s repurposing content in a more visually appealing way. Text and font size, photos, illustrations, audio/video are reformatted and resized. In other words, Zite makes publishers’ content more readable, while diverting their traffic and advertising revenue.

Twitter and Flipboard function differently: they show the articles in their original web format. Although Flipboard does provide a magazine-like interface, it doesn’t repurpose content a user sees upon clicking through to a given article. All three allow users to read and browse articles without ever having to leave the app.

What’s particularly interesting is Zite CEO Ali Davar’s comment to AllThingsD, “It’s a bummer that they did this, but we expected it.” He said that up until now, when publishers requested their articles be directed to web view rather than Zite’s in-app view, Zite complied. So why didn’t Zite just shift all articles to web view in order to avoid the legal mess entirely?

In spite of the fact that Zite clearly knew it was in the wrong, I can’t help but root for it because of one simple reason: it’s a platform that gives me the content I want when I want it. Because it works by monitoring my consuming habits it knows what I like to read and what I want to avoid. Flipboard, on the other hand, has become a useful complement; it shows me what all my colleagues are reading.

Essentially, it seems the greater implication is that Zite managed to do what publishers weren’t able to, which was cater to an audience that really wants to be catered to. It isn’t to say that it offers the best user experience but it certainly does simplify news reading. After all, because of Zite, I don’t have to sift through the feeds of the 200-plus people I follow on Twitter nor do I have to comb through my 100-or-so RSS feeds. That said, there are some key flaws in the Zite app that can’t be ignored.

The main problem with the app is that its very nature deconstructs the layouts that publishers create for a reason.

Let’s take, for example, our new list, paidContent 50: The Most Successful Digital Media Companies In The U.S. When opening it in Zite, you see only our introduction page. Then, after clicking to see the web version, you see the webpage framed in the same space and when you click on a link, it asks if you want to open the site in Safari. Not exactly the most seamless experience for any user, and it certainly is not the way we intended our list to be viewed. What’s more is that I couldn’t even see this for myself because Zite didn’t include the paidContent 50 in my personalized magazine — and there’s no way to search for articles you want to see outside of Zite’s choices for you. I had to rely to Staci, who could see it and took the screengrabs you see below.

Now comes my evaluation of the app from the perspective of a content producer. Our paidContent 50 was created in a very specific way. It wasn’t a regular article; it’s a lengthy slideshow with images and text, conveyed across many webpages. But Zite transformed it into something else. It took our introductory page, which on our site featured a small mosaic of the various companies featured, and presented these images in a linear format. On top of that, clicking through to the list became a wonky user experience; on our own website, navigating the list is easily done through “previous” and “next” buttons.

It’s safe to say that Zite isn’t ideal when viewing complex packages such as our list. But when it comes to general news-consuming, it offers a clean, smooth format in a style of Zite’s own. Kudos to Zite for that. Unfortunately, for publishers, it’s a function that eradicates the original content creator’s intentions. I would like to see Zite and the publishers find a solution that works for me as a consumer — and as a producer.