Text reformatting is all the rage these days, and I happen to be a big fan. Though I love good design, ultimately, like most readers, I just want to get at the content and read it however I want. This is why I added the “Readability” button you see at the top of every post. If you want to see this text just as text, so be it.
Instapaper is an app I use all the time for exactly this purpose. Readability offers a similar service (with a much nicer web interface) but for a monthly price which in turn pays publishers, i.e. me. [Flipboard}(http://flipboard.com/) entered the fray last year as an iPad exclusive app that scoured your Facebook and Twitter timelines for links to articles, reformatting them into a magazine-like interface for all to see. It’s free and it’s pretty amazing.
The New York Times, who just put up their own pay wall, sees an opportunity for monetization in the reformatted web space. Together with bit.ly, the company behind the popular URL shortening service, they have released News.me, a Flipboard alternative with a twist: it costs money and it will supposedly lead you to content you otherwise might not get to. Eventually, that is.
New.me is free for a week, after that it’s $.99/week or $35/year. But what does it do? Basically, it pulls links out of your Twitter feed, or the feeds of people you follow who are also using News.me, and arranges them in a more readable fashion, with pretty serif headlines. Click on a story and it folds out to show you the full text of the article. From there you can read it, send it to Instapaper, e-mail it or share it out to Facebook or Twitter. You can also mark things to read later, in which case they will be saved for offline viewing.
The question isn’t “What does News.me do?” but “What does News.me do differently?” Not much. The only ace in their hole over Flipboard or the slicker and more useful TweetMag is that popular links are supposedly moved to the top of your stream. From their FAQ:
By default, News.me filters your content so that you get only the best stories. This content is chosen based on a combination of popularity and what you have read or shared in the past.
This is very interesting. Since bit.ly collects massive amounts of data on every link they shorten, they are able to determine how many people are sharing links to the same place and how many people are clicking on it. This isn’t an exact measure of what will prove to be interesting to you as opposed to someone else, but it’s a start. The logic is that the more something is shared, the more likely it is to be interesting to anyone.
This type of automated curation could become very interesting depending on how much data bit.ly and the New York Times are able to garner from users of News.me. Today, TweetMag is a much better looking Twitter culling app and Flipboard more delightful to use. But that’s just today.