Streaming, Personalized News Radio on Your Mobile? That’s Swell





Everyone knows Pandora, right? I remember one of my very early posts on Advocate’s Studio was about the streaming music service based on the Music Genome Project that compared  your interests to other cool music you might like based on matching some 40 something-odd characteristics. I remember being totally blown away by the concept of Pandora when I first happened on it: it was one of those A-HA moments that hooked me deeply to web apps and the power of the Internet back in the day.

News radio, however, hasn’t had the benefit of personalized, algorithmic preference-based treatment like music has enjoyed. Until now.

Swell is a new free mobile app (currently iOS and soon Android) that promises a somewhat similar experience for news and podcast junkies. At first, you will get served a wide variety of podcasts and, as you skip or like shows, Swell will get better at guessing what you want to hear. This could include TED talks, NPR programs, ABC media, BBC media and other sources. Hopefully the sources will expand as the service gets more popular.

Starting with your Twitter login, Swell will base initial guesses on your network. Like Pandora, Swell will simply deliver up the content in a continuous stream, one after the other. Sort of like “set it and forget it”, but preserving the ability to skip or like to tailor the experience to your tastes. You can also bookmark content to return to later. Swell calls this a “lean back” format. So, I guess you just turn it on and lean back while the goods are delivered. The algorithm measures (from the site):

Expert rating: Rating and metadata assigned to the program by an expert human curator

User rating: Your judgment of the program inferred from how long you spend listening to episodes of the program

Content rating: A measure of how closely the content and topic matches your interests

Community rating: The Swell user community’s overall judgment of the content

Peer rating: Judgment of the content by other users similar to the you

You also can choose topics, on which Swell will then provide three articles before returning you to the regular playlist. Use of wi-fi or cellular data for downloads is selectable in settings. And, you can share content with friends on Twitter or Facebook.

Pandora remains a go-to app for me because I really like the “set it and forget it” or “lean back” approach to content discovery. So Swell seems like a pretty decent idea to me. If you prefer news to jams, then check out Swell. And let me know what you think.

Skimzee’s Web Tool, Bookmarklet & Chrome Extension Summarize the Web


Skimzee is another free tool to help you combat information overload on the Internet. Via web site, bookmarklet or Chrome Extension, you can summarize most news stories, content from YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, Wikipedia, and control the size of the summary with an adjustable slider. The site also incorporates an RSS finder/reader function in that it allows you to search for feeds, add them and create groups of them from the Settings page accessible at the little gear icon at the upper right on their site. You can get the summaries from your home page – hover over the results and click to expand the “view summary” link. Some will not show that link – particularly if the site is behind a paywall, or uses Javascript, or is password protected.

Screen Shot 2012-12-17 at 1.23.08 PM

A Latest Stories drop down on the Feeds tab lets you browse by subject. You can also click on trending or latest videos, or Facebook feed or wall, if you set up your Skimzee to access such content. Search tab allows you to enter search terms or a specific URL for summary treatment. A drop down arrow next to the search box allows you to select / deselect your target content. Skimzee also prompts you with popular page links at the top.  The settings page from the gear button allows you to customize your Skimzee experience, including what page is summarized when you navigate to Home, what feeds to show at startup, what Summary Bookmarks to include along the top, what and how to summarize via the bookmarklet or extension as you browse the Web, what RSS feeds to include and how to show them, and more.


There are other tools out there that help you make sense of the Web by personalizing your experience and showing you news deemed of interest to you. Skimzee takes a different approach by giving you access to all the news, albeit in shortened, summarized form. If that is your preferred method of parsing, then Skimzee might be of interest. Check it out – and check back in. Would love to hear what you think.

Prismatic for iPhone – My New Fav News Reader

I wrote about Prismatic’s web application here in the Studio several months ago. I am pleased to report that Prismatic has now rolled out an iPhone version of its very capable relevance-based reader – it is now my go-to app for news. Using stories from my own Twitter feed as well as content from other relevant sources, Prismatic for iPhone provides me with a continuously updated stream of material on the topics I choose.

When you set up your Prismatic app, the app will give you suggestions for interests and publishers related to your location. Select more general topics if you like – as you can imagine I am very tech-heavy in my topic choices. The results are beautifully displayed on the phone with images and a blurb in the feed, the ability to swipe right for more information and even click through links within the app with a very fast-loading, content specific browser. Swipe the other way to return to the feed. Press and hold on a news blurb or the full article to add, or share the content via email, or Twitter. The gesture-based functions, animations and smoothness of the app are topnotch.

Swipe right on the Home Screen and you can search for content, review your activity including favorites, shared and read items, tweak your Home publishers and topics, access global news and peruse a list of suggestions that improve the more you interact with the app. Click on the blue labels under the title of the news story to visit other interesting feeds. It is a work of design brilliance and performs very solidly.

I also find news on Prismatic that I don’t find on my other relevance-based readers, so kudos to their algorithm and source breadth and depth.

One of my favorite uses of the iPhone is to access news for quick reads will I am waiting somewhere. Prismatic more than fills that need and I find myself turning to it more than once daily to get caught up on what is happening right now. If you are like me, you will love Prismatic’s iPhone app.

Twitter Just Got A Lot More Interesting, with Prismatic


Even after four years of tweeting, Twitter is still an enigma to me. Mostly because I find myself constantly flooded with information from it and I am unhappy with my inability to segregate the really good stuff from the really useless stuff. I prune my follows regularly and use all sorts of apps to bring the best stuff to the top, but I still am plagued with the idea that I am missing real gems in the process. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Twitter isn’t useful – I definitely see it as a valid news source, particularly for real-time and breaking information. It’s just that my efficiency-first personality renders me constantly frustrated by the process of reading and rating the worth of tweets.


Speaking of gems, I may have found an answer, at at least, a better answer to may age-old problem of information overload in my Twitter stream. It’s called Prismatic. Prismatic is an algorithm driven application that reads through the Twitter stream, and reports back with the tweets and links that will likely be of the greatest interest to you. It’s awesome for a number of reasons. First, while you may have the coolest Twitter follows in the world, they are only human and may miss some key information. Furthermore, if you have narrowed your interest graph to a particular topic or set of topics, what are you to do when you need information outside that sphere. Prismatic doesn’t just look at your Twitter follows, it looks at the WHOLE Twitter stream (yikes!) and then promotes the best stuff on your area of interest, while still offering a series of links along your sidebar to permit you to investigate different topics and tags.


Prismatic’s developers bill it as a discovery engine and have leveraged their deep knowledge of machine learning and linguistic programming in building the app. So what does it look like? After answering a few questions to get your page started, you will be greeted with a clean, web-news page look, with main stories in the larger left side, and a sidebar along the right. Hover over the home icon on the right to see your “home” feed, which is built around your interests. Hover over the globe icon on the right to explore the larger universe of available topics. It appears that the Global feed is also personalized to you, but covers a broader range of material. You get suggested topics as well as suggested publishers, so you can lock in on the most interesting stuff. You can also employ the search box on the right to get right to what you are looking for.


Of course, you can fully interact with the articles presented to you in your feed. A typical blurb looks like the image below, and  you get infinite stories by simply scrolling down the left side of the page:



You can see the article at the link, an image and a bit of the text. Click on it to go to the original source article. See a few of the tweets that have linked the article to the right. Click the “x” if you aren’t interested and would like it removed, click the “+” if you want to favorite the story for later reading and click the comment bubble if you want to share the story elsewhere. You can share by email, Twitter or Facebook. You will also see how many people have shared the story, so you can get a sense of how popular it is. Click the eye at the top of the page to show that you have read all of the articles. See and click on the tags that brought the story to you, and click on the related stories link to see all stories Prismatic has related to the original story. This makes it easier to dig deeper into a particular bit of news.


I am loving this app. I found in the first few articles of my feed some great stuff that hadn’t percolated its way up to the top in Feedly or my other “smart” aggregators. I was able to quickly read and tweet it back out. Very efficient. If you are having difficulty managing the wild Twitter beast, then consider trying out Prismatic. My one complaint, lack of a mobile app, is being addressed as we speak and hopefully will be out shortly. Prismatic on the iPad would be an absolutely killer combination.


The service is free, but it is still in limited beta, so you will need to request an invitation at their website. It didn’t take long to get mine. Head on over, then head back here with your feedback on this great, intelligent Twitter-taming tool.

Have You Reddit?

UPDATE: if you aren’t sold on the value of Reddit, can I suggest you take in this inspired discussion on Reddit as to whether the sun is hard or squishy. Thanks BoingBoing – this is truly beautiful.

I’m back! And ready to jump back into all things tech and web. Out of the gate, I thought I would visit a web tool that I have noted for quite some time, but haven’t really taken advantage of – Reddit. Reddit is a social news site that bills itself as the source for what’s new and popular across the web. The content is submitted by the community of users. Those same users can vote up and down the content, creating a constantly shifting front page of popular news. The site is broken up into individual, topic based Reddits. You can subscribe to the Reddits that interest you. While you can subscribe to as many Reddits as you like, your front page can show 50 Reddits at most (more if you are a “Gold” member). Each Reddit has a monitor – a user that helps keep the Reddit moving in a positive direction. You can use a search function to find topics and individual Reddits and build your news sources accordingly.

In order to prevent spamming, there are limits to the number of links you can post during a certain time frame. Users can also accrue karma points based on the submission of well-liked content. Of course, you can also comment on links, so there is both movement in the popularity of links as well as in discussion surrounding the links. And comments can become popular or unpopular via voting, so there is movement in the comment ranking as well.

Reddit has been around for a while, which can mean a potential for irrelevancy in a rapidly changing web. Similar service Digg has suffered somewhat in this regard over the past year or so (as well as from a hellish redesign). However, this negative result does not appear to be the case for Reddit. It has a somewhat smallish, but thriving community of contributors that seems able to actually get things done. Like prompting Stephen Colbert to hold his rally in Washington, D.C. in October, 2010, raising a half a million dollars for charity. Recently, a riveting account of a standoff between the New Jersey police and a gunman bubbled up through Reddit, not Twitter. The Redditor, Elinika, supplied eyewitness accounts and updates to Reddit and the local New Jersey paper, a prime example of citizen journalism at its best.

I like Reddits no-nonsense interface – you see mostly just the links when you visit, and no advertising (Woot!). there are tabs for what’s hot, new, controversial, top and saved, with individual topics at the very top of the screen. To engage, simply create an account, and start linking and voting.  But be careful, Reddit can be mesmerizing – the front page is constantly changing based on user actions and there is a lot to see and explore.

In sum, Reddit is a nirvana for social news junkies interested in the content that interests others.

If you want tools to supercharge your Reddit experience, check out this article at MakeUseOf that highlights some apps / extensions to improve the site’s utility.

Trapit Goes All AI To Bring You Your News

Any friend of Siri is a friend of mine. And Trapit is practically a relative! Startup Trapit is launching a beta version of its new “Pandora for News” service aimed at leveraging the same Siri Personal Assistant AI engine to bring relevant stories to you. The Siri engine is based on the largest AI project in U.S. history, CALO, which was funded by DARPA, a defense agency.

Using keywords or URLs, you can create a content “Trap” that will pull relevant news stories from 50,000 sources that are apparently free of spammers, link baiters, and content farmers. And, like any good recommendation system, the more you use (i.e. scan, click through, read full articles and share) the more the engine learns and the better the recommendations get. The engine also gets human by scanning news links in social networks which, presumably, have been selected and added by humans. If you don’t feel like creating your own Traps, you can scan other trending Traps.

Of course, the fine people at Trapit are no dummies and have definitely leveraged the visually appealing, blurb-box stylings of popular iPad apps that also seek to bring you the news. Think Flipboard and Pulse here. But with the added cool of recommendations and AI smarts. Of course, as I am a firm believer in relevance based browsing, I am definitely excited to give Trapit a thorough once over. Check it out and see if it solves a content firehose problem for you.

Mapping the News

Sometimes the standard Google search doesn’t cut it when you are looking to filter by location. If you need to get the best local news in a particular, international region, there is a tool for you: Newspaper Map. Newspaper Map uses Google Maps to show the world’s leading newspapers pinned to their appropriate locale. Zoom into the map for a particular region or search by name and get the best papers. If you click the pin, you are taken to the newspaper’s website and Google Translate is integrated so you don’t need to worry about the language deficit. Filter by major papers only or include all the small town dailies as well. And, if you are on the run (or simply visiting a foreign land and looking for the local goods), Newspaper Map works well on mobile tool. Definitely one for the Cool Tools list.

Hat tip to Digital Inspiration Technology.

XYDO – Your Social News Reader

What do you get when you cross the now, apparently, defunct Socialmedian and social-question-site darling Quora? Well, I am not sure, but it might look something like XYDO. If you like your news crowdsourced, timely and with a healthy side of friends, then XYDO might interest you. Instead of using algorithms to filter news of interest, XYDO prompts you to use your trusted friends to sift the good stuff to the top of your web page. You create an “activity stream” of content by choosing fairly fine-grained topics of interest and friends to follow from your social services. This content is pulled from links shared by these users. Further break down this content by stories that are trending, newest or top in the past 24 hours (or current). If you want a broader view of the news, step back and peruse the front page, so to speak, which pulls top content sitewide. Each news story offers some interaction as well, in the form of a voting option (which looks a lot like Quora’s answer voting mechanism), the identity of who shared the story, the categories the story belongs to, how and when the story was shared and a process for commenting on or discussing the story within the news blurb displayed on your XYDO page.  And, when you check out a story, note the related articles showing in the right hand column – you could dig yourself pretty far down into a given topic pretty if you are following the right people and subject matter. And it isn’t all tech – some of the early closed beta adopters set up some legal channels in XYDO, so the topical content is not strictly tech-oriented (although I don’t mind that particular orientation myself).

Follow content, follow sources, contribute your own sources to existing topics. Trending updates on a story can show back up in Twitter from XYDO if you choose to follow them there or keep tabs on the highly interactive, clickable, information-laden XYDO page. But don’t forget to leave a trail of popcorn – if you are a news junkie like me, you might need some help getting back out of the forest of information.

When all is said and done, I like XYDO’s take on news delivery, post-information explosion. It seems the best options for filtering content these days are either leveraging high tech algorithms or leveraging people you know and trust. No matter how you slice the “behind the scenes”, any filtering, tagging and sorting of the vast quantities of content is a GOOD thing. Cheers to XYDO – hope they keep it flying.

This week, XYDO opened its closed beta doors to the public. Go check them out at the link above and add your own voice to the mix – the more quality curators hopping on board, the better this crowdsourced news mecca will become.

Qwiki Now On iPad, Where It Should Be

I have written about Qwiki, the visual wiki, in the Studio before. Qwiki, the web tool, offers a multi-media search engine with Wiki-like editability. Results yield a montage of videos, photographs, maps, links to related topics and a narration and scrolling text of the “answer” to your query running throughout the video / slideshow.

Fast forward to today and Qwiki, the ultimate modern reference consumption tool, finds its way to the iPad, the ultimate modern reference consumption device. The iPad version looks much like the web version, but takes full advantage of the touch interface. There is a location element – Qwiki’s from nearby are highlighted on the homepage, along with the most popular Qwikis.

This is a truly winning combination of application and device – get an engaging visual information experience, on the go, tied to your location via a tactile interface. In other words, take your Qwiki with you to the coffee shop, the airport, the gym and the courtroom. The developers promise that iPhone and Android applications and an internet television version are in the works.

Hitpad – iPad News With Personalization

Fast and personal – not a bad way to get your news. And when you are reading it on the Number One Consumption Tool available today, it doesn’t get much better. Hitpad is another news reading app for the iPad, yes. But the slick app offers “bite-sized” news nuggets of the top stories, that get better and more personalized to your tastes the more you use and interact with the app. Hitpad culls from many major news sources, so you are getting a broader feed. And the app distinguishes itself from the burgeoning pack by (in its own words) offering the following:

  • Hitpad is a rich visual dashboard that tells you what are the most important things you should know today in your areas of interest
  • Hitpad is instrumentation by measuring, analyzing and determining what is important to consume in order to minimize reverb and improve discovery
  • Hitpad is agnostic to the publishers that are providing the data
  • Hitpad is tuned and personalized based on your interests

Hitpad is very visual (a big plus for me) and looks a bit like a Tweetdeck for news. But it does it one better by curating based on your uses and interests. And it is fast – the first layer shows a single sentence that gets to the heart of the story so you can skim a wide field, but you can still drill down to get more if a particular blurb piques your interest.

And, best of all, its free.

If you are looking for a cool newsy add for your cool new iPad, this might be a winner. Slice and dice through your news with Hitpad.