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iPad For Marketing App Review: Zite

August 9, 2011

With its March 2011 launch, Zite is one of the latest personalized magazines for the iPad. While it doesn’t have nearly the same polish as Flipboard, it’s an interesting app that could catch up quickly. Zite’s competitive differentiator is the automated algorithm it uses to find articles it thinks a reader will like. It’s clear that Zite has taken note of Pandora’s successful approach to personalization. Pandora set the standard for delivering content – music – based on user preferences. Zite shares the attributes that have made Pandora so popular: easy set up, near effortless personalization, and an element of discovery. Both Zite and Pandora deliver content that their users will like – but might not have found on their own.

When a reader loads Zite for the first time, it asks for access to his or her Twitter, Google Reader, Delicious, and Read It Later accounts. It checks out their profile along with the people and sources they follow to get a bead on their interests. Presumably, the greater access you give Zite to these services, the better content you’ll get in return.

I gave Zite access to my Twitter and Google Reader accounts and it seemed to help Zite pick which of its 2,000 topics to display on three screens. Not surprisingly given my interests, gadgets, sports, science news, business & investing, politics, and world news topics rose to the top. You can also search for topics. I typed “travel” and got several interesting choices: travel blogs & tips, camping, time travel, backpacking, walking, and snowboarding. I added about 15 topics, including travel blogs & tips, tapped “Done,” and 10 seconds later had my personalized magazine.

One of the main differences between Zite and its competitors Flipboard and Pulse (see previous reviews) is that readers can’t ask Zite to grab a specific source, such as your company’s RSS feed. It doesn’t even take Google Reader feeds – it just uses them to learn reader preferences. However, it appears that Zite may let readers add specific sources in future versions. Zite CEO Mark Johnson commented on a review about the issue, “That’s something we’re pursuing in future versions, so keep on the lookout!”

Readers can view articles in “web” and/or “reading” mode. While reading mode is certainly cleaner and more pleasurable, some publishers insist that Zite display their content within the context of their websites. As with Flipboard and Pulse, it’s easy for readers to share articles via Twitter, Facebook, email, Instapaper, Delicious, and LinkedIn. They can also use the Read It Later app to save it or use Evernote to create a clip of the article. One of the most valuable features, however, is the ability to rate articles. The Zite algorithm takes into account a user’s ratings to refine reader preferences. Thus, the personalization gets better as you rate articles. 

So, how does Zite impact your digital marketing efforts? It underlines the importance of developing rich online content and engaging with customers through blogs. Remember, the more buzz there is around specific content, the more likely it’ll be picked up by apps like Zite. The increasing popularity of such applications – and the fact that they deliver content targeted to people’s interests – underscore their potential as a marketing channel. These applications make it easier for existing and potential customers to find you. If they love gadgets and your gadget company invests in building a gadget blog that captures the imagination of the blogosphere, then it’s likely that apps like Zite will deliver your blog content to the very gadget lovers you want to reach.

The Final Verdict

The reader experience: A-. Simplicity wins out. The design could use some polish, but I actually enjoy how simple it is to read and navigate Zite. The near effortless personalization makes this app one to watch.

The publisher experience: D. I’ve no doubt that I’ll revise this once Zite allows readers to add specific RSS feeds. Right now, the only way to get your content to Zite readers is to invest in building buzz around it.

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