May 19, 2013
If you’re looking for more reviews and resources for journalists, a good place to start is the British-based site journalism.co.uk. I especially like the tools and tech section. The navigation and search functions appear to have a few bugs (unclickable buttons; blank pages for search results), but with some patience you’ll find plenty of valuable information.
May 18, 2013
Twitter has gained a reputation for having the latest up-to-datest news, but that’s not always the case. Those tweets have to come from somewhere, and if the sources are not forthcoming you have to wait seconds — even minutes — to read all about it.
A good app for getting through this bottleneck is Breaking News. It’s updated every few seconds with bulletins from an alphabet-soup of reliable sources such as AP, AFP, BBC and NBC. And Reuters.
Just as I started writing this review, I learned from Breaking News that a powerful explosion has rocked Damascus. Not sure what to make of it, since there are precious few details. But for those who feel the need to know, the knowledge is there.
I also learned about deaths from violence in Iraq and Yemen, and about a woman killed by a bus in Florida.
Admittedly, this isn’t news for the faint of heart. I console myself with the belief that my knowledge of these events in no way affects them. Still, unless the latest news is particularly vital, I tend to leave this app on the back burner.
Another problem is that it concentrates on world and U.S. news. A great update would be a way of tweaking it to focus on countries or even cities. That way, if someone gets killed by a bus, there is better chance it will be someone you should know about.
May 11, 2013
What do journalists do in their spare time? Those at the business publication Quartz play a hot new game on their smartphones called Dots.
The concept behind Dots is simple. You get a six-by-six grid of different coloured dots and clear as many as possible within one minute by connecting like colours. As you clear them, more dots drop down from above.
The more you clear, the more points you get. This is important, because you can use those points to trade in for special powers such as the ability to clear one dot alone.
Why would you want to do that? Because the key to big scores is making squares. When you make a square, every dot of the same colour is expelled from the grid. This leaves fewer colours, making it easier to create more squares and rack up even more points.
And the single-dot power-up makes it easier to rearrange other dots to make the squares.
I learned this strategy by reading a rather lengthy article at the Quartz website that goes into detail on how best to improve your score. The folks there seem to believe that anything below 500 is unworthy. About the best I’ve been able to do is 167 — clearly putting me out the Quartz league.
Along with the single-dot power-up, there are two others you can can get with points — a time pause and an exploder. Dots generally gets good reviews at the App Store, but some people have complained that there should be a greater variety of power-ups. I can see what they mean — the novelty of Dots wore off fairly quickly for me.
Also, I wonder what it’s like to work for a publication where the employees spend much of their time playing games? Seems like a job at Quartz truly is something to aspire to.
May 4, 2013
Reuters has to be one of the best designed news apps ever. It’s easy to navigate and looks good doing it. The articles appeal to a business audience, but general readers will find them just as engaging.
After being overwhelmed by the eye candy in the new aggregator app, Vū, delving into Reuters is a welcome relief. That’s not to say there aren’t some polished animations — there are — but they are not a distraction from the main thing you want from a news app — the news itself.
The news comes in categories known as streams. Once you’ve chosen a story, you can flip up or down to the next one. In addition to Home, there are eight other streams. You can also search for any topic you like, with suggestions appearing as you type.
It would be nice if you could go deeper into the rivulets that feed the streams, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do this. For example, after performing a search on “Apple products” I noticed that the results were in a Gadgets stream. I would like to see an update to Reuters that would allow you to save Gadgets as a stream along with the main ones.
In addition to the streams, there are a couple of useful tools. Stories can be saved so you can read them later. And you can create a watchlist that shows the latest stock prices for companies of your choice.
Reuters has set a high standard with this app. Creators of other news apps should take note.
April 28, 2013
Never heard of Laura Mvula before, but I’m tempted to buy one of her songs. I found it in the Emerging section of the #music app, and I have to say this soul singer has a beautiful and expressive voice.
So does this mean I recommend this new app from Twitter? Not really.
Let’s go through the four main sections. First of all is Popular — in other words, the top 140. Yes, the number of songs is limited just like the number of characters in a tweet. Cute. Unfortunately, it’s filled with autotuned schlock. If this is the kind of music you’re into, you don’t need an app to tell you what’s hot. It’s everywhere.
The Emerging section holds out more hope, because it gets away from the Top 140. It’s advertised as “hidden talent found in the tweets,” but there is no information on how these songs are chosen. Most of the selections are not worth listening to, but, still, that’s where I found Mvula — so it’s not all bad.
Moving on, we come to the Suggested section. Mine started out empty, possibly because I’m not following any of the artists on Twitter and have no intention of doing so. But just as an experiment, I tried following Rihanna, refreshed the section and was presented with nine suggestions ranging from Bruno Mars to Katy Perry, with Britney Spears and Lady Gaga in between. Yuck. Urgent unfollow.
OK, that wasn’t a fair test because I would never follow Rihanna in a million years. So I tried following someone whose music I do genuinely like — Alex Cuba. Argh, it’s still the same junk being suggested. But at least, curiously enough, he (or at least his minions) followed me back.
The fourth section, called #NowPlaying, is based on tweets from people I follow. Apparently, the people I follow aren’t tweeting about their music because this section is empty. Could it be that these people are too sensible to bother their followers with fawning tweets about the song they happen to be listening to? Maybe.
Or maybe, to paraphrase, the Beach Boys: I guess I just wasn’t made for this app.
April 24, 2013
Yes, it’s another app — à la Zite and Prismatic — that “gets to know you” so it can bring news stories you like but might have missed. This one is called Vū. That’s right: there’s a line above the “u” so you know how to pronounce it. Or maybe it’s just decoration.
This app stands out from the others with its unabashed eye candy. The headline for every story has a picture in the background. And if no picture is available then there is a nice colour gradient. Now, I like gorgeous design just as much as the next guy, but with a news app you have to walk a fine line. After all, the content is the star of the show and too much glitz can be distracting. Vū comes ever so close to crossing that line.
The app is divided into three sections — My Topics, Trending on Vū and Recommended Reading. I found the stories presented in all three sections to be for the most part quite interesting. There are always at least a few that are worth reading, which is about consistent with my experience with Zite and Prismatic.
Where Vū falls behind is with the limited selection of topics. While Zite and Prismatic are pretty much unlimited in their variety, Vū only has nine. With the others, you can get quite specialized — drilling down to, say, Online Journalism, which is always a popular topic here at newsonaut.
I can kinda overlook that limitation, but what I really can’t tolerate is the Share Your Reaction feature. Choices are Cool, Whoa, Nice, LOL, Sweet and Yikes. Yikes, indeed. The articles and their presentation are worthy of a thinking, intelligent reader — so why the dippy-teen reaction choices? Let’s hope a future upgrade allows users to customize their reactions to something more suitable.
Anyhoo, since Zite, Prismatic and Vū are all free there’s no reason you can’t have all three and switch between them as they strike your fancy. Personally, Zite remains my favorite, with Prismatic a close second. I have a feeling I’ll soon tire of Vū and give it the boot.
April 19, 2013
There are some great video apps for getting something quick onto Twitter and social networks, but what if you want to create something more elaborate or elegant?
Videolicious does a nice job of stitching video clips and photos together with an introduction and voiceover — just like on TV. And it’s a lot simpler to learn than you might think. The only catch is that the free version limits you to one minute. Still, that’s a lot more than the six seconds you get from Vine.
Videolicious takes you through the production step by step. Choose a few video clips and photos (that you’ve already shot) and save them. Then film yourself talking about them. As you go along, pick which clips are to be shown as you speak.
After that, a nice touch is choosing a song to give the project a mood. A few filters are also available. You then have a choice of standard or high definition. Give it a title, decide how to share it, and you’re done.
A slick, minute-long video is likely more than enough for most situations, but if you want more it’s pricey. Ten minutes plus other features costs $5 per user per month. Unlimited videos are $10.
April 14, 2013
Apps like Zite and Prismatic offer up a menu of articles based on algorithms that use your reading habits to figure out your interests. As far as I’m concerned, they work great.
But what if it were human beings making the recommendations instead? That’s where Newsana comes in — a recently launched website that promises to “elevate the conversation.”
The site works by having members pitch stories. Other members discuss the stories and vote on them. Those with the most votes are placed in a list of five essential stories, or they win places of honour in categories such as Big Ideas, Human Rights and Social Media. I was pleasantly surprised to find a category for Future of Journalism. These categories, known as topics, are determined by Newsana members.
In addition to ranking stories, members also rank each other. The more successful pitches you have, the more highly you rank. Votes from members with high ranks count for more when determining the success of a pitch. A vote also counts for more if it comes from a member who has joined the topic where the pitch is being made.
It takes a bit a learning curve to figure out how Newsana works, but that might help the site in its quest for elevation. After all, the lazy and the stupid are not likely to apply.
I have not asked to join mainly because I feel that taking part would be more than just a casual commitment. I would feel obligated to pitch stories on a fairly regular basis and to participate in the discussion and voting that follows. Obviously, this is not a passive form of news consumption. Even smart people might find themselves having to overcome a tendency to inertia.
What might convince me, or indeed anyone, to request an invitation is the ability to make a difference in the selection of stories. I was immediately drawn to the Future of Journalism section, but was a little disappointed to discover that I had already discovered and read two of the five top stories elsewhere. The other three look interesting, but it’s possible I could best them with my own pitches.
As far as the reading experience goes, I wish there were a way to put the articles in Pocket or some other read-it-later service. That way I could come back to them when I have more time.
Another letdown is the lack of a mobile version. Newsana on an iPhone looks just like it does on the desktop, except much tinier. There isn’t an app either.
Despite these hesitations, I’m still rooting for Newsana. That’s because it has a value that goes beyond the mere aggregation and curation of articles. The discussion brings a social aspect that can’t be duplicated by an algorithm.
I fear, though, that a certain amount of elitism might creep in after awhile if it hasn’t already. Will Newsana members wind up being a collection of like-minded individuals with a narrow focus on what they deem to be of interest? Or will the scope be broad enough to include a diversity of points of view that would be more likely to create lively debate?
The only way to know for sure would be to seek out an invitation. But I’m not quite there yet.
April 10, 2013
Radio is about the next best thing to the Internet for breaking news. A dedicated news team can break into regular programming at any time for important updates. And besides that, you can depend on regular newscasts every half hour.
That’s what makes TuneIn Radio so handy for news junkies. It automatically lists all your local radio stations and allows you to explore stations from pretty much every country in the world.
You can go to the News section and check out recommended stations or drill down to other categories such as Investigative News and Political News.
Or you can explore by location. Find out what’s going on overseas from the radio stations located there.
The selection of music is also good. Despite the war in Syria, for example, there are still plenty of good tunes on the air. And I’m really digging the rhythms from the Central African Republic.
The basic version of TuneIn Radio is free. For $4.99 you get rid of annoying little banner ads and gain the ability to record and play back.
April 7, 2013
Forums were big in the ’90s, but they fell behind the times and never really caught up. These days, it’s rare to find a half-decent forum, so it was great to see the launch of Moot — modern coding that can easily be embedded in your website.
TechCrunch has the fascinating story of how Moot came be after three and a half years of development. The upshot, though, is that this platform is beautiful, easy to install and free. They’re looking at add-ons that you have to pay for, but the basic forum works great.
I’ve resisted allowing comments here at newsonaut, mainly because I prefer to let my writing stand on its own. But a separate forum — especially one at the cutting edge — was too intriguing to pass up.
The newsonaut forum is in its infancy, so any suggestions for improvement are welcome. The categories, for example, are tentative and can easily be changed. So give it a shot — I’ll gladly join in with my two-bits worth or answers to questions.
Update: I can see now that it was over ambitious for a humble blog such as this to start up a forum. I’ll leaving it running, though, as a demo. Moot is a darn cool forum.