Assembling a Magazine of Stories in a Post Google Reader World


By Yonatan Gordon

Now that Google Reader is closing shop soon, finding a suitable replacement has become the topic of much public interest. While there are several vying for the title of “Google Reader Successor,” we’d like to start by mentioning a program called “Zite.”

Let’s begin with their ambitious homepage caption:

“Your Zite is as unique as you are. Zite learns what you like and gets smarter as you use it. Zite analyzes millions of articles each day and brings you the best of your favorite magazines, newspapers, authors, blogs, and videos.”

This sounds good and promising, but there’s one big issue at play here. What if the readers themselves don’t really know what they are looking for? For instance, you didn’t think you’d be interested in this article five minutes ago, but nevertheless, here you are. Can programmers then develop an algorithm that factors in these surprising moments of the day?

Here’s how a recent article puts the personalization aspect of this app:

“Zite learns your preferences in a variety of ways. Within the app itself, it pays attention to what you click on, and which stories receive your thumbs up and thumbs down. Content is sucked down from your Twitter stream, Google Reader, and Read It Later, as well as from a wide range of subject categories the app suggests for you, and that you can add yourself.”

While this does sound very promising, our question still remains. Wouldn’t it be much better if a magazine told me what I was interested in, instead of waiting for me to click and vote up and down content?

Magazine Subscriptions

Maybe this is what magazine subscriptions of old were all about. One reader thought Time had the best content, whereas another felt Newsweek was more on target. But now, like a music CD that has one or two good songs, readers are looking for the best articles published on the market. Although tech fans may still flock daily to, many more are relying on their news feed to tell them what they should be reading. But with the vast amount of content available, aggregation is fast becoming another sort of magazine subscription. Just now instead of Time or Newsweek, we call it Feedly or Zite.

Popping the Content Aggregation Bubble

In order to get readers steamrolling toward the most valuable content, it would be worthwhile to first get back to basics. We need to think again about what a subscription means. Now that we know that Time or Newsweek doesn’t necessarily have the monopoly on good and worthwhile content, why should a reader today subscribe to any particular magazine?

One answer is that there are niche beats or topics of interest. If you are interested in remote control planes, Fly RC is probably your likely choice. But not every choice is so clear cut. What about someone interested in the latest, and most innovative technology news? There are at least a dozen top contenders, with dozens more sites that occasionally publish great content.

So you have apps like Zite that save you time by collecting the best stuff on tech for instance, and then give you the option to click on what you like. But today, the Zite tech feed didn’t cover a story about the 1967 Volkswagen that runs on tweets, Facebook likes and Instagram shares. So what then is the answer for all those who always wanted a car that ran on “social media” fuel, but never knew it until they saw the article?

Magazine of Ideas

We spoke last time about the domino or ripple effect of ideas. One person introduces an idea, and then suddenly many others seem to express similar sentiments. It’s important to first note that matters of spatial distance need not be a significant factor. So just like two quantum entangled particles can travel at up to 10,000 times the speed of light (or maybe even instantly), ideas really can spread like wildfire.

But what is not discussed so thoroughly in the marketing books, are the diverse stories that can be generated from the same idea. Whereas a science writer may take the thought to mean one thing, a technology writer will take it to relate to something else. To explain, let’s go back to Yahoo! acquisition of Tumblr from last week.

In order to relate something specific to other specific things, we to abstract and isolate the thought behind the story. So referencing back to our article “How to Tumblr into a Yahoo! Experience According to Kabbalah,” we mentioned the both position and velocity and it related to our two “particles” of interest (i.e. Tumblr and Yahoo!). But as we also brought there, there is also a counter-intuitive aspect to this pairing. As we explained there, Yahoo!’s acquisition of Tumblr was also so that the former should become more of a “superconnecter” or “mother” site for all other sites.

Now that we abstracted some of the concepts behind the story, are there other events from last week that share these similar ideas? This is important, because as we have discussed previously, the public’s main attraction to stories comes from these core concepts. To phrase this another way, now that I have liked this communication science relate story of Zite, what other stories should then populate in my feed?

To make this article even more interesting, we narrowed our search down to articles published during the same week as the Tumblr acquisition on May 20th (May 19th – 25th). We should also note that these stores are just suggestions; the presentation of some headlines that more closely approximate the core concepts. But in truth, all the main headlines for the week could be viewed as clustering around the center, with varying degrees of distance and proximity to the center.

In the next article, we will explain the relationship some more. But for now, we will suffice just by quoting the relevant sections from each story.

Mathematics:  Prime number breakthrough by unknown professor

“A quirk of prime numbers is that they often come in pairs separated by two, which are known as “twin primes”, for example three and five, 11 and 13 or 18383549 and 18383551.

Prime numbers are common at the lower end of the numerical scale and become much rarer among larger numbers, but although twin primes become extremely hard to find there is no suggestion they vanish completely.

Mathematicians have long theorised that there is an infinite number of twin primes – an idea known as the “twin prime conjecture” – but none have ever been able to prove it.

Dr Zhang took a major step towards doing so, however, by demonstrating that no matter how large a twin prime is, there will always be another pair of primes separated from it by less than 70 million.”

Exact Sciences: What are we to make of a man who left academia more than two decades ago but claims to have solved some of the most intractable problems in physics?

“In the mathematics of the observerse there is no missing dark matter. Weinstein explains that the mass only seems to be missing because of the “handedness” of our current understanding of the universe, the Standard Model of particle physics.”

“The Standard Model relies on a fundamental asymmetry between left-handedness and right-handedness in order to keep the observed particles very light in the mass scale of the universe,” says Weinstein.

“He says his theory does not have the asymmetry associated with the Standard Model. The reason we cannot easily detect the dark matter is that, in the observerse, when space is relatively flat, the left-handed and right-handed spaces would become disconnected and the two sides would not be aware of each other.”

Psychology: Email Works for Anxiety Therapy

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) delivered by email was helpful in relieving anxiety disorders in patients unable to receive conventional treatment, a researcher said here.

In a 6-month trial involving 62 patients with Beck Anxiety Inventory scores indicating a need for treatment, those receiving CBT by email showed significant reductions in scores relative to a control group receiving no therapy, said Nazanin Alavi, MD, of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Although face-to-face sessions should remain the first-line approach to delivering CBT, email appears to be a viable alternative when conventional delivery is impossible, she said at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting.”

Social Sciences: “IBM Report: How Social Business Can Help Organizations Succeed

“To gain external customer insights, the report recommends the practice of integrating social media outreach with internal social collaboration platforms, so that employees can directly track customer sentiments and observations, and can collaboratively respond to customer needs.”

“To do this, an organization deploys social monitoring tools for directly listening to customer sentiment, analytical tools to gain insight, communication tools to converse with key influencers and collaboration tools to identify and develop responsive products/services through internal social systems.”

Law: Why not let nonlawyers help regulate the legal profession? Law prof makes case for change

“Washington and Lee law professor James Moliterno tells the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.) that nonlawyers should be allowed to serve in leadership and policy positions in the ABA and state bar associations, where they could help set standards for the profession.

“I recommend a more forward-looking approach that welcomes the views, and even control, of nonlawyers and innovators in business and other enterprises. My hope is that the legal profession can be more like companies that have thrived because of their innovative tendencies.”

Medicine: Scanadu Develops Medical Sensor, Asks for Investors and Test Subjects

“Scanadu’s Scout promises to scan vital signs and send them to a user’s smartphone for diagnosis.

A user will immediately know vital statistics, including blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature and electrocardiogram (ECG). The Scout will also include two disposable ScanaFlo paddles for urinalysis that can test for pregnancy, among other things.

According to Scanadu’s founder Walter De Brouwer, the Scout is “a medical instrument that can almost replace a clinic.”

Education: “How a Little Data Can Solve One of Higher Education’s Biggest Problems

“By mining the data, the university is able to spend its limited funds on students who have the potential to do the most with the extra dollars. Georgia State calls them “structured interventions”: Find a problem, comb the numbers to figure out a solution, test the idea on a small group of students, and either tweak it or expand it if it works.

What Georgia State demonstrates is that by better using data, universities can successfully weigh pressures to enroll a student body that reflects their state, and keep up retention and graduation rates at the same time.”

Economics: Why the Sharing Economy is Growing

“The sharing economy has an estimated $26 billion value, including online platforms that make it easy to do everything from renting out spare rooms in your home (AirBnb) to carsharing (Zipcar), clothing swaps (ThredUP), even sharing extra portions from homecooked meals ( Shareyourmeal, of course).

Most people (77%) see the sharing economy as a great way to save money, but among those who have actually tried it, the plurality, 36%, said their motivation was philosophical, not financial. Listing extra goods or a spare room online was seen as a way to help others and, for one in four, to promote sustainability as well.”

Communication Sciences: The Yahoo! and Tumblr story

Political Science: “Extreme Political Views Caused By The ‘Illusion of Understanding

“Have you ever tried to engage in a balanced discussion or debate over, say, macro-economics or maybe foreign policy — subjects that are complex and contingent upon many factors — and found yourself frustrated in your attempts by an extreme/unyielding ideological viewpoint?

Well, the next time you’re confronted with an extreme (and typically over-simplified) political viewpoint, you might try asking that person to explain their viewpoint, that is, ask them to detail how they think a certain policy or law actually works. You might just find that their extreme view will shift to one that is more moderate and balanced.

This shift from an extreme view to a less extreme one is due to the ‘illusion of understanding’, according to new research published in the journal Psychological Science.”

to be continued…


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