Turning inner space into outer space

May 5, 2012

Prismatic is not the web version of Zite I was hoping for

The wonderful thing about newspapers is that a team of seasoned editors picks out the news for you and presents it in a way designed to keep you interested. Or at least that’s the theory, and for many people it works just fine.

But what if you could be your own editor? In a way, that’s possible. You can roam the Internet seeking out stories that appeal to you. And you could subscribe to some of the RSS feeds to get more from the sources that you find yourself going back to. But, in the end, it’s easier to let someone else be the editor.

Not just easier, but more fun. An app like Zite, for example, can learn what you like and bring you similar content that you might not have otherwise thought about. I’ve written about Zite before — suffice to say I’m a big fan. So when I came across Prismatic, my first thought was: Wow, a web version of Zite.

I got an invitation and have been test driving it for the past couple of days. And my first reaction is that it is not as much like Zite as I would have hoped. Prismatic figures out your interests by connecting with your Twitter account. I connected it to my newsonaut account and, not surprisingly, Prismatic figures I must be interested in journalism, newspapers and social media. If I had connected with my Thriftmac account, I’d be getting all kinds of stuff about Apple.

Luckily, Prismatic has an Explore tab that allows you to wander off from what your Twitter account suggests. Each story presented by Prismatic has three options attached to it. “I don’t like this story”, “Favorite this story” and “Share this story”. Stories you don’t like are removed from the stream while stories you “favorite” are kept for posterity. Sharing places a link on Twitter.

What’s not clear to me is whether Prismatic is capable of learning. Zite make this abundantly evident with messages such as “You’ll see more stories like this”. Clicking on a plus sign in Prismatic will stash a story away so you can read it again later. This could be handy in some instances, but it would be nice if there were some intelligence at work as well. Sure, I can tell Prismatic to give me stories about newspapers, but how does it choose which ones? I’d like to be able to refine what articles I get, and to have Prismatic remember the types of choices I make. You know . . . like Zite.

I want to like Prismatic, but I have a feeling that even it gets to be as good as Zite — or even better — I still won’t like it as much. That’s because kicking back on the couch with an iPad app that understands me really is the ultimate luxury for a news junkie.