Qwiki & PostPost – Two Great Consumption Tools

I have been playing around with a couple of web tools and thought I might share with the class. Both offer filters, or perhaps lenses, for content with a focus on presentation.

The first one is Qwiki, a tool that has been in closed alpha testing for a while, but has just been released to the public. Qwiki bills itself as a multi-media search engine, but I see it as more of a visually stunning wiki tool. Visit Qwiki and you will find the usual search box. A nice touch – suggested results show below your typed term offering you options. Qwiki includes more than 3 million reference terms, mostly nouns such as people, places, and things. Enter a term and receive an “information experience” – a selection of videos, photographs, maps, and more, as well as links to related topics. You get a narration and scrolling text of the “answer” to your query running throughout the video / slideshow. Share the Qwiki you happen to be viewing via social media links, email it, or embed it in another site. The wiki part for me was being prompted via button at the top to “improve” the Qwiki, such as suggesting video and images that might go with the subject matter. Combining user-participation with such a stunning experience is intriguing. It is SO science fiction. While Qwiki might have limited appeal now, due to its smallish database, imagine its impact when it can access a database of information the size of Wikipedia. And, consider “reading” the morning news on your smartphone with a Qwiki interface. Businesses and professionasl should run and not walk to Qwiki to develop their own brand – what a great way to leverage web presence in an information environment. Not so far-fetched and definitely appealing.

The second is PostPost – a social newspaper for Facebook users. Do you like Flipboard? Do you like Facebook? Then you will probably enjoy PostPost. The “real time” social newspaper is Web-based. Simply log in with your Facebook credentials, authorize the free app, wait a moment, and get a really nice magazine of your friends’ Facebook content. The page will show links, photos, and videos, offering an experience akin to paper.li’s treatment of Twitter. This is meant to serve as a real-time layout, with intelligent grouping of similar content, making it easier to read and share. You can control the experience by moving content between sections and change the size of the newspaper. Filter and block what you don’t want to see and emphasize what you do want to see. A real boon for large friend lists or overactive sharers.

Either way you slice it, making content more visually appealing and stimulating will improve retention and enhance consumption. Both Qwiki and PostPost are aiming to do just that. Check it out and check back in with your comments!

Lazyscope Your Twitter

Big thanks to Louis Gray (link here) for breaking this one: the team behind my personal fav real-time discovery tool for blogs is putting its considerable creative force into a desktop client for Twitter. I have praised Lazyfeed in the Studio on prior occasions (link here and here). Now the Lazyfeed team has brought its hypnotic scrolling relevance goodness to your Twitter stream with Lazyscope (link here).

Lazyscope is an Adobe Air application and offers some of the same look and functionality as a traditional Twitter client in the left hand column. Tweets with links show a long URL and a quick synopsis of the subject / content. But, you can get the full content with media if click a tweet – it will show in the right hand pane of the interface. The bottom right corner shows new tweets of interest. All in that fun, scrolling Lazyfeed-like way.

What makes Lazyscope extra cool is the integration of your Twitter stream with RSS reader capabilities. You can enhance the Twitter stream with your favorite RSS feeds and really turn Lazyscope into a one-stop-shopping center. You can subscribe in the right pane or enter a URL in the appropriate box at the tope. RSS updates will then show in your stream, right along with your Tweets. In essence, you are getting the best of both worlds in the debate over whether RSS or Twitter is the preeminent news consumption tool.

Another very cool feature is the ability to subscribe to and filter out a Twitter user’s particular content. You can subscribe to one users pictures and skip the Tweets by subscribing only to their photo service, bringing viewing into Lazyscope. Or simply subscribe to a user’s YouTube channel or blog posts. Pick your poison and filter out the rest.

Seems Lazyscope is all about fine-grained news consumption on the desktop. If you use Twitter primarily as a news reader and would like a better mousetrap for doing so, check out Lazyscope, sit back and watch the fun roll in.

The Facebook Times

Do you like news? Do you like Facebook? You can reduce the number of web stops you need make to satisfy these cravings with two great “news” applications within the Facebook ecosystem. Why within Facebook? Because you can be more efficient if you can glance at the news and the reactions of 400 million plus Facebook members without having to actually leave the Facebook site.

The two applications are highlighted in this blog post at MakeUseOf (link here). To summarize here, they include Facebook Headline News (link here) and the aptly named News On Facebook (link here)

Although Headline News is not strictly within Facebook (it is a standalone site), it collects all of the news released by major news outlets on Facebook. This allows you to keep your Facebook news reading segregated from your “news” feed.  The news is broken out into twenty or so categories. You can click on the news outlet to go to their Facebook page or click through to see the original article.

News on Facebook is the lighter option – a page which features the headlines from the major news outlets, curated by Facebook employees.

While there are certainly more intensive ways of consuming news online, you can’t beat the ease of one-stop shopping. Using these apps while you are already perusing Facebook will give you just enough information to delve deeper if you wish.

Happy reading!

The Good, The Bad & The Truncated

Now HERE is a novel concept in information consumption: applying liposuction to your news feeds. Thanks to Techcrunch, I became acquainted this morning with TLDR.it – a web app that shrinks long form news articles and RSS feeds into shorter versions containing only the salient(?) points. You can choose whether your abstract is short, medium, or long, but certainly the return will not be as long as the original article.

The app was built in 48 hours, a testament to the developer Jeremy McAnaly’s need for speed. Indeed, the app bills itself as “a.d.d. approved news reading.”

You can either enter the feed or the URL in search-styled boxes, or you use their bookmarklet to summarize any page you happen to linger on. Then you get a synopsis of the feed or URL, with options to see the short, medium or long versions, as well as the original source in full.

I couldn’t resist – I had to run Advocate’s Studio through Willie Wonka’s Mike TeeVee treatment and see what came out. The TLDR.it algorithm picked up on my second post about getting Studio content  at various web locales. (maybe it thought my top article was already the picture of brevity). If you read the content post, you will see that it was eight or so fairly meaty paragraphs. This is what tldr.it returned:

Visiting the page is cool because I have fitted out the blog with some extra material in the widgets and blog bar – you can get my Mobile App of the Day reviews in the sidebar along with my shares on Lazyfeed and Friendfeed and links to some of my other web profiles via my Retaggr card – I tend to spread my sharing out over many services, so that no one particular place has everything.

The long version contains approximately double the wordage as the short version, picking up pretty much where the short version left off. While this information is contained somewhere in the middle of the post, I cannot really say how the algorithm arrived at the “conclusion” that  this was the “meat”  of the post. Thus, I cannot really say that tldr.it returns the most salient points of the article.

Nonetheless, much like Cliff Notes, some information is better than no information, if for no other reason than giving you the appearance of having actually read the full work. I guess, with TLDR.it, you have to take the good with the bad.

Hot Damn! My Own iPhone App!

By George, I think I have finally done it! After splitting time between my Windows and Mac machines and iPhone, I finally got an Ad Hoc version of my very own, personal, AdvantageAdvocates iPhone app working like a charm! The app, created with the web tool AppMakr (link here) and aptly called Advocate, brings together all of my content streams in one nicely-designed package. If you enjoy Studio tech posts, Advocate tech article shares, my tech tweets and mobile app reviews, then this App’s for you! And it’s going to cost my favorite number: free.

I went through this process in order to complete the exercise of completing an app design, rather than to make a developer name for myself. When I ran into snags (and there were a few), I used AppMakr’s support forums and kept them apprised of glitches. To their credit, they responded beautifully, fixing issues and clearing the way for Luddites such as myself to finish the product.

Wanna see some screen shots? Here is the icon on the page:

Here is the splash screen:

Here is The Studio blog feed:

If you click on a link in that view, this is what you will see:

The little arrow above the image is the actual audio link to the NPR broadcast, preserved from my blog post! Click and the audio plays! (can you tell I am all excited?)

This is my Studio Tweets screen:

There are sharing links from each individual entry in all screens. This is the sharing link from a Tweet:

Studio Web includes my shares from Google Reader. I have a huge Reader library and like to share the great stuff I find in there. It is always articles with a legal, tech and/or professional bent. It’s like having your own personal tech / pro research assistant reading and pulling the cool stuff so you don’t have to.

An individual share entry looks like this:

The Studio apps button has all of my mobile app reviews from MobileAppOfTheDay. Here is the individual app entry for today (you would scroll down on the app screen to get all of the images and review):

It works flawlessly and really looks pretty darn great. I used my own artwork for the header image, icon image and splash screen, but AppMakr allows you to browse the Web or your own hard drive for images to use, with helpful tips on how to size them properly.

No one can say that creating an app for a mobile device is a quick and simple process. But I have to say that it can’t be that bad – if I can do it, anyone can do it with a little tenacity. AppMakr certainly makes the job a whole lot easier.

Stay tuned to the Studio for information on when the App goes live in the App Store. Next stop: Android App Creator!

Six Tips for Creating Web-Friendly Content

You want readers for your on-line content. And you want them to stick around for more. But, do you read the Internet the same way you read the  latest New York Times bestseller? Of course not! Unlike the book, which forces your attention toward a single story line, the Web is a crazy-quilt cornucopia of news, varying widely in content, quality and length. As a content creator, how do you frame your offerings so that they pull the attention of the reader your way?

Web readers read on-line material differently. Judging from my own experience, I tend to scan headlines and the first few sentences (or blurb) to see if the content catches my eye. Sometimes, I am pulled by an interesting picture. More often than not, my attention is directed toward an interesting hook.

While qualitative style and substance rule the offline reading world (and do play a part in online world as well), readability might be the most important attribute of online content. How easy is it for your reader to scan and latch onto your material? What do you find easiest to read? Here are some tips to consider:

  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Wolfing down huge bites of your lunch leaves your stomach feeling cramped. Wolfing down smaller bites is far more comfortable. Like food, small bits of information are easier to digest than larger ones. Craft smaller sentences and smaller paragraphs. Don’t try to cram too many ideas into one unit of writing / reading measure.
  • Use organizers to structure the information. Use headings in an outline-like structure to reinforce the stream of your argument. If your post is long, you can use links to various sections at the top of your post so your reader is not left to hunt and peck for the valuable nuggets.
  • Bullet points get points. There is a reason that posts titled or structured “Seven Best …” or “Fifteen Pitfalls to Avoid …” get more love – bullet points hit us with the organization our minds crave. Make sure your lists make sense – include an introductory phrase to explain in a few words what follows. And keep it simple.
  • Open up with your best hook. Write your posts like you would write an argument to the Court. Put the best argument up front, phrased in as simple and compelling a manner possible. Reinforce that argument throughout the writing. End with the argument, highlighting the best information introduced in your article that supports the point.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t overlook media, but don’t let the media overwhelm your post. Use images, videos, audio when they enhance and not simply because “they are cool.” I like to use a uniform-sized image at the start of all my posts to help the entire blog layout look organized. You can also use images throughout to underline points – screen shots are particularly helpful on this blog, which highlights technology and web tools.
  • Pay attention to physical layout of the piece. Keep typography in mind. Proper font size, line height, letter and paragraph spacing, white space, a simple color scheme, consistent layout, italics, bold and graphic elements like boxes for important concepts are great aids. When using these devices, always keep the overall look and readability in mind.

If your goal is to gain readers and increase their attention to your Web writing, consider these tips to help attract and retain. A little extra Web-friendly attention to detail goes a long way in increasing your content’s traction.

Looking for a GReader Alternative? Try Good Noows

Although I am a die-hard Google Reader fan, it is always nice to welcome a new RSS news reader to the fold and expand the options. Good Noows (link here), a web-based reader, has the slick look of Feedly with lots of customization tools  and social sharing buttons. Interestingly, you cannot sign up for Good Noows directly. Instead, you use your social log-ins from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo or LinkedIn.

Be aware that, unlike Feedly, Good Noows is not tied to your Google Reader subscriptions. You must select your topics and sources within the application. Your news options do vary based on your location. In addition to the offered choices, you can insert custom feeds from your own favorite sources. Make sure you de-select the default options that you are not interested in, as Good Noows automatically subscribes you to recommended sources, just to get your started.

There are nine different formatting options for your news blurbs, all of which are nicely laid out and easy to navigate. I like the auto-translate feature – click a button to translate your entire page into another language. As with other readers, clicking on the item ultimately sends you through to the original article.

There is searching and filtering within streams for specific terms, which are called “labels” and can be added as buttons for quick access to your desired content.  In addition to the usual sharing options, you can share links from Good Noows in a chat format, powered by Meebo.

If you are a chat junkie, this last feature may make Good Noows a first place choice. For the rest of us, Good Noows might offer a different view of the news and may fit your needs better than the old standby.

Pining For Long-Form News

Short form journalism definitely has its place in our modern, fast-paced, Web environment. “Real-time” implies “short-tail” and even shorter attention spans. But long-form news articles (generally in excess of 4,000 words), requiring a greater depth of investigation and crafting, still have their place in our reading lists. Or should have their place, anyway.

Enter Longform.org. Think of it as a semi-curated, highlighting service for web-based long-form journalism. With its close ties with Instapaper, the web and mobile device-based off-line reading tool, you can easily bookmark these longer piece and save them in Instapaper for more leisurely reading.

Topics are broad, ranging from crime to tech, with editors’ picks and access to archives. There are approximately 50 stories in archives. You can even submit your own suggestions as to worthy long-form articles and they will be considered for inclusion. Candidates for inclusion are driven either by top-notch writing or compelling topics.

There are RSS feeds for all stories and for editors’ picks. Another small, but important, detail is the serving of the entire story in one swoop, rather than breaking up the story into approximately 450 word increments by web news outlets, requiring serial clicking to get the entire piece.

The site’s simple, journalistic look reminds me of paging through my beloved New Yorker Magazine. Not much there in terms of bells and whistles and, thankfully, no advertising.

If you love to read well-written, fully developed, topical pieces and would love the freedom and flexbility of serving them up from the Web, try Longform.org.

Genieo – Another Means for Auto-Curating The News

I have talked about intelligent news readers here in the Studio before, so why not again? Genieo (link here) is another entrant in the arena of relevance-based reporting. Genieo is a desktop application based on proprietary algorithms that “read” user behavior, learn relevancies and feed back content tuned to user interest. That information is viewable through a dynamic, personal content portal, a/k/a home page. From the site:

The company’s vision is to become the leading source of user behavioral modeling, supplying content and application providers with effective means to address their users’ needs, and help advertisers and publishers with targeting personalized ads, with the utmost precision.

The process is simple enough – download the Genieo software and make your settings, allow Genieo some time to pull together your interests and profile and create your home page, and open your browser to your page. It will show, in magazine format, top news headlines, actual and real-time updates and filtered Facebook and Twitter updates. Everything shown will be related to your interests and Genieo will refine those interests over time as you use their service. You can also manually adjust interests to direct the process.

Some cool adds? Genieo will auto-update your bookmarks as you visit sites and manage these bookmarks based on your level of interest and interaction with them, all without interfering with your browser’s own bookmarking system. A Mini Topic Filtering System sifts through all information at the “highest resolution”, continually bringing items exclusively relevant to you. You can pull real-time updates from events you are following, stocks, sports (WORLD CUP!!!!) or developing news stories. Unobtrusive notifications of updates are displayed on your screen as you work. And, of course, there is the ubiquitous ability to one-click share your stories with your networks.

Genieo offers an interface modded for iPhone – simply navigate to my.genieo.com, log in, and get your information iPhone-sized. You can also pull your Genieo feed into your favorite RSS reader.

Lots of relevancy-based coolness from the fine folks at Genieo! Curate your own news now, automatically!

The Next Web's List of iPad Plusses & Minuses

Still on the fence about the iPad? Lists are so very, very helpful. How about this great list of iPad pros and cons compiled by Zee over at The Next Web (link here). These are initial, hands-on comments from early testers, so they are not based entirely on conjecture. For ease, I will requote Zee’s list here, but feel free to head over there for his thoughts:

Positives

  • Sleek, light, silver-and-black
  • As an e-book or digital periodical reader, it works brilliantly (better than the Amazon Kindle in Mossberg’s  opinion)
  • Runs all iPhone apps 150,000+ of them.
  • Large screen allows much more functionality than you initially imagine.
  • If you’re mainly a web surfer, note-taker, social-networker and emailer, and a consumer of photos, videos, books, periodicals and music—this is for you.
  • The iPad is thinner and lighter than any netbook or laptop Mossberg has seen.
  • It boasts a big, bright color 9.7-inch screen that occupies most of the front
  • It has a decent speaker, and even a tiny microphone.
  • iPad’s battery life great, Mossberg found it to be even longer than Apple’s ten-hour claim (He played movies, TV shows and other videos back-to-back until the iPad died). Lasted 11 hours and 28 minutes. “I was able to watch four feature-length movies, four TV episodes and a video of a 90-minute corporate presentation. All with wi-fi running and email downloading in background.”
  • Overall speed of the iPad, “wicked fast”
  • Typing accurately and quickly on the iPad’s wide on-screen keyboard was perectly comfortable and fast.
  • The Web browser also works beautifully.
  • Watching videos, viewing photos, listening to music, reading books and playing games was “satisfying and fun”.
  • Generally the iPad apps are much better than their iPhone equivalents, but more expensive, but some free.
  • The photo app is striking, and much more like the one on the Mac than the one on the iPhone. The device can even be used as a digital picture frame.
  • Reading the news on iPad was the “best implementation of the newspaper” (WSJ) Mossberg has ever seen.
  • iBooks is superior to the Kindle, and encountered no eye strain says Mossberg. (but heavier)
  • You can search text in iBooks and it will open to a specific page
  • The simple act of making the multitouch screen bigger changes the whole experience. Maps become real maps, like the paper ones.
  • there’s no contract. (By tapping a button in Settings, you can order up a month of unlimited cellular Internet service for $30)
  • It gives portable game machines from Nintendo and Sony a run for their money.
  • Apple expects more than 1,000 iPad-specific apps to be available at launch,

Negatives

  • The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch says Pogue.
  • No physical keyboard
  • no Webcam
  • no USB ports
  • no multitasking.
  • No headphones with the device
  • Not as good for writing or editing longer documents
  • Not good for anything that requires Flash.
  • battery is sealed in and nonreplaceable
  • Memory, also sealed in and nonexpandable (ranges from 16 gigabytes to 64 gigabyte)
  • no stand but $39 iPad case works well.
  • iWork works well, a “serious content creation app”, but exporting to Microsoft’s formats (which only Pages can do) doesn’t work so well.
  • No Weather, Clock and Stocks apps.
  • iPad heavier than Kindle
  • Most people need two hands to use iPad
  • The iBooks app also lacks any way to enter notes, and Apple’s catalog at launch will only be about 60,000 books versus more than 400,000 for Kindle.
  • email app lacks the ability to create local folders – email app doesn’t include rules for auto-sorting messages
  • email app doesn’t include group addressing
  • No tabs in Safari
  • Wifi only version lacks GPS.
  • Wide screen view can be awkward. Either you have black bars in wide screen view or you get some of your image cut off in fill screen view.
  • There’s an e-book reader app, but it’s not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries says Pogue
  • At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 10 ounces)
  • You can’t read books from the Apple bookstore on any other machine — not even a Mac or iPhone.
  • When the very glossy 9.7-inch screen is off, every fingerprint is grossly apparent.
  • You can’t read well in direct sunlight
  • Pogue: “When the iPad is upright, typing on the on-screen keyboard is a horrible experience; when the iPad is turned 90 degrees, the keyboard is just barely usable (because it’s bigger). A $70 keyboard dock will be available in April, but then you’re carting around two pieces.”
  • Pogue: “The bottom line is that you can get a laptop for much less money — with a full keyboard, DVD drive, U.S.B. jacks, camera-card slot, camera, the works.”
  • The new iBooks e-reader app is filled with endearing grace notes.
  • Apple says that 150,000 existing iPhone apps run on the iPad but many appear or small and dead center on the screen — or, with a tap, doubled to fill the screen, a little blurry.
  • Skype (even voice calls, through its speaker and microphone). Just no video
  • Pogue: The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget.
  • Pogue: The iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff.
  • Pogue: It’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on.
  • You will have to buy into the iTunes ecosystem, of course, to watch movies, read e-books and sync up the apps.
  • You have to purchase a $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit, which lets you connect a USB camera or import photos via an SD card.
  • Baig: “Many people will still need a more traditional computer. You can’t edit video on an iPad. And the virtual onscreen keyboard that pops up when needed is fine for e-mails or scribbling notes, but I wouldn’t want to regularly write articles using it. “
  • No coverflow in iTunes

Hit the jump above to The Next Web for reviewers’ overall impressions and the link to a video review.

What do you think? Does this change your mind in one direction or the other?