How good is Flipboard competitor Zite?

Since Flipboard was named Apple’s favorite iPad app of 2010, lots of startups come along that try to get in on its turf. Tonight one, named Zite, is getting lots of press coverage.

So, how good is it?

Well, for +me+ it actually is better than Flipboard in one sizeable way: it built me a table of contents of different sections automatically after I added my Twitter and Google Reader accounts into it. The sections read: Gadgets, Mac, Programming, Social Media, Technology, Palm, Python, which match the major interests of many of the 32,000 people I’m following on Twitter and the hundreds of feeds I’m following on Google Reader.

It built an attractive magazine and the articles it picked seemed pretty good. I’ve been reading the press on it and it supposedly learns about you as you read and brings you even better content after you use it. In the hour or so that I used it I didn’t see this happening, but that’s probably because it started out with a very good dataset to start with.

OK, that’s what’s good about it compared to Flipboard, but now there’s some massive things it doesn’t do as well.

First, it assumes you are a heavy Twitter or Google Reader user. What if you’re not? My dad, for instance, just joined Twitter. His experience starting out won’t be like mine. In this way Flipboard is a far better designed product because it has ready-made sections that he can choose from without even adding any of his social networks into the product. Things about Fashion, Movies, Sports, and hundreds of other content choices.

That’s a +huge+ difference. Remember, Flipboard has already been featured on Oprah. Most of those users aren’t very heavy users of social networks and if you don’t present them with ready-made curated content they will be lost and won’t figure out what to do.

But there is one other interesting difference too: Flipboard’s fit and finish is FAR superior to Zite’s.

Flipboard caches web pages in the background before you click on them, so when you click they pop up much faster than they did on Zite. It also showed me the original tweet above the article, which I didn’t see with Zite.

Finally, there are tons of little things in Flipboard that just are better done than in Zite. Spin the iPad in both and you’ll see Flipboard actually has very subtle animations that move the page around as it switches between horizontal and vertical. Zite’s just switches without the animation. Now geeks amongst you might say “who cares?” But to me those small fit and finish details show me the care that’s gone into making Flipboard, which is why Apple picked it as its favorite.

Sorry, Zite, not there yet, but nice try!

UPDATE: The Zite app is currently having trouble with scaling up. People are reporting to me on Twitter that the app won’t start and the servers are too busy. This happened on the first few days with Flipboard, too, but Flipboard doesn’t have these scaling problems anymore and Zite app should have been designed with those scaling problems in consideration. Plus it’s 3 a.m. and the San Francisco crowd is sleeping as we’re seeing these problems. If you can’t scale while San Francisco sleeps you haven’t really done a good job there.


17 thoughts on “How good is Flipboard competitor Zite?

  1. Don’t forget that Zite is basically a first iteration product vs. Flipboard’s multiple iterations today. I think the Zite concept is superior than Flipboard’s RSS reader mentality. Flipboard definitely delivers a superior typographical reading experience with its flippaper feature (or whatever it’s called) but outside of that the experience can be widely varied.

    I’m in Zite’s corner on this one.


    1. Adam: true enough, but Flipboard is working on its own filtering technology (they bought the Ellerdale Project but haven’t shipped that technology yet in any version of Flipboard). It’ll be interesting to watch these two duke it out.


  2. Thanks for the post Robert.

    You don’t have to be either a Google Reader or Twitter user to make use of Zite. That boosts the personalization for a first time user but the magazine is designed to automatically personalize as you use it either way. Also, you can pick from thousands of sections to add to Zite using our smart auto-suggest tool. That allows you to not only pick high level sections for your magazine, e.g., Technology, but stuff at the tail as well, e.g., product development, vegetarianism, urban planning, etc.

    I agree that Flipboard is a rather beautiful product. We endeavor to also make something that is really pleasurable to use as well. But I think that there is still a serious information discovery problem that people are struggling with that needs some deep technological answers–and we have made a step forward in that regard. Search is at a mature phase now, but the discovery problem is only in its infancy. Whoever solves it–whether it be us, Flipboad, or someone else–I think bring a lot of value to peoples’ content browsing experience and save the web from the information silos it is trapped in now.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Ali Davar, CEO


    1. Cool, I’ll keep using it and will rereview it in a week or two after things settle down and I can see how much the learning behavior in Zite helps readers.


      1. Great, thanks Robert. We really appreciate your insights and don’t want people feeling they can’t use it if they aren’t Twitter and Google Reader users. It is exciting to see so many companies tackling this problem. I think this space will have a lot of twists and turns for years to come. I look forward to your analysis.


      2. I think the first screen sets that expectation, though. It doesn’t have a button that says “if you don’t have Twitter or Google Reader, press this.” I didn’t see anything except the Twitter or Google Reader buttons when I signed in.


      3. We do encourage people to sync where they have a Twitter or Google Reader account by giving that step a page of its own. But on that page other than the Twitter and Google Reader buttons themselves there is only two action buttons: one that says “Next” and one that says “Skip this Step”. The problem did not show up in our beta testing–some Twitter users even chose to skip it because they wanted to experience the magazine first. But I appreciate that if you missed it other users are likely to miss it as well. Also, our video gives it quite a bit of emphasis so if you watched that I can understand why you were misled. In any case, we will try to resolve the problem as best as we can on our end. The burden rests with us to make these elements clear.


    2. one should be able to comment posts within ziteapp ; the self learning features are clearly the way to go to solving the discovery / personalization problem ; great job so far for a first iteration !


  3. I found the onboarding of Zite to be very good. For the heavy Twitter/Google Reader user, it automatically figured out topics I like and brought them to the top. Well done.


  4. I found the onboarding of Zite to be very good. For the heavy Twitter/Google Reader user, it automatically figured out topics I like and brought them to the top. Well done.


  5. I wholeheartedly like Zite better then Flipboard. Flipboard is like the pretty girl that you date in high school, that after a while you find yourself saying, “is that all that’s to you”? Hats off to Zite for coming out of the gate strong!


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