The 10 Social News Apps You Need to Try

1/20/12Follow @wroush

Once upon a time, there was a magical innovation called RSS, for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. It freed news articles, podcasts, and other content from their original homes on the Web and allowed news junkies to follow their favorite publications and blogs through story streams called news feeds, which could be bundled together inside programs called RSS readers. For a long time, RSS readers were the best tools for browsing stories from lots of sources quickly.

But RSS was invented by geeks and didn’t belong to any single company, so there was nobody with an incentive to make the whole scheme more user-friendly. Finding a publication’s RSS feed and adding it to your reader was always a hassle, and the RSS readers themselves weren’t particularly fun to use. On top of that, publishers didn’t have good ways to make money on all the content they were sharing in their news feeds. So the RSS system, while important and useful, never really developed into a booming product category.

Now fast-forward a few years to the birth of tablet computing. With their big screens and touch-based interfaces, tablets look and feel a little bit like real magazines. So programmers naturally started thinking about how to revive the news aggregation idea on Apple’s iPad and other tablet devices. Pulse, released for the iPad in May 2010, was the first tablet reader to feature a combination of features that has now become standard in this category: a graphically rich table-of-contents page for navigation, and a stripped-down story page for reading. Flipboard quickly followed in July 2010, adding a social element. Feeds now consisted not just of the articles being pushed at you by news organizations, but also of the content your friends were sharing on Facebook or Twitter.

In the free-for-all world of Web and mobile software, what’s worth doing twice is worth doing a dozen times. Today there so many social news reader apps to choose from that it’s hard to know how they differ and which ones are most useful. To help you get oriented, I’ve rounded up the most noteworthy tablet news readers on the following pages and made note of a few strengths and weaknesses for each.

Note that I’m restricting my list to free reader apps available for the iPad (since I don’t have an Android, BlackBerry, WebOS, or Amazon tablet). I’m leaving out apps that require a paid subscription, such as Ongo, and I’m not including pure RSS-aggregator apps like Reeder, which tend to lack the graphical and social features of the newer crop of news apps.

Click “Go to First App” to start reading, or jump directly to an app from the list below. Be sure to continue all the way to The Bottom Line on last page, where I share my personal favorites.

GO TO FIRST APP >>

Editions by AOL
Flipboard
Flud
Google Currents
News.me
Pulse
SkyGrid
Trove
Yahoo Livestand
Zite
The Bottom Line

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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