In advertising and marketing, a big part of your job is to stay current. The tricky part is that we do marketing for other people, not ourselves. That means we're balancing the information flow to satisfy our own interests, but perhaps even moreso for our clients'. I have clients in automotive, mobile, gaming, and healthcare. That's a lot to keep track of -- those industries all move pretty fast and make news every day. Like you, I don't want to be caught off guard in any conversation, and certainly the creative work needs to reflect the most current popular culture events. Knowing the latest headlines is imperative.
So, being on the digital side of the business, I make it my business to use the latest resources for aggregating information, trends, and news. I use Twitter quite a bit. I also have a really good network of friends and co-workers who send articles and links through email pretty much every day. And I have perfected my bookmarks. But for the purposes of this list, I wanted to point out a new set of news aggregators that I think are moving beyond the simple RSS reader. These are the more customizable tools that can be shaped into exactly the right resource for the most important information you need to know -- that page that you can look at, scan across, and say, "OK, I have a good snapshot of what's going on in the world."
This is not an exhaustive list, but what follows are the news aggregators that have caught my eye recently. I tried to focus on the ones that seem the most unique, comprehensive, and have a nod toward design and user experience. That said, I'm sure I'm leaving more than a few out, so please leave your own favorites in the comments.
Spezify represents a different way of looking at information, and it takes a little getting used to. The time investment on this one is very small, insomuch as you simply type in a word or subject that interests you and it throws information from all different kinds of sources (Flickr, Twitter, Yahoo, YouTube, MSN, etc.) onto a page, like a collage.
Advantage: The collage view of information feels better than straight-up headlines. It's artistic and more exploratory. There's a good combination of randomness and newsworthiness.
Disadvantage: It requires you knowing exactly what you want to look up. In this regard, it's more like a search engine than an aggregator. But it is news, and it is a fresh, new approach to a tired, old subject.
Popurls really is an aggregator. And one of the better looking of the bunch.
Rather than let you add any blog you like, it has its favorites and it's sticking with them. But what it perhaps lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in user experience. In fact, it would appear that the limits of overall feeds enable some things that other RSS aggregators can't do. The interface is slick, modular, cool, and addictive. And I have to say, I'm impressed with the list of feeds and have never found myself wanting.
Advantage: It feels made for pop culture enthusiasts, with an eye and mind for the well-designed. If you're a tech enthusiast or web designer type, this site is your Mecca.
Disadvantage: Its strength is its weakness. This is about what's most popular, not your proclivity for a specific genre of video game, sports teams, or local news.
Yep, it's true. If you gave up on Yahoo as your homepage a whole bunch of years ago, it's time to see how the company has cleaned house. The first is still best, in my opinion, and is among the top homepage sites you can choose.
Customizability on My Yahoo is off the charts. You can literally have it look any way you want. The widgets of information are also infinitely customizable. And it still has that "world at a glance" feeling of all things that pertain to you, and beyond, nailed down.
Advantage: The original has only gotten better over time. It is the solid choice. Completely customizable and a perfect blend of widget-based design and readability.
Disadvantage: It takes a commitment. In order for it to be the perfect suit, you have to tailor it, and that takes a little time.
To my eye, Guzzle.it is a study in information design. There was definitely a user-experience expert involved in this. The adding of terms is so nice, it makes the customizing process fun. And the end result is a page filled with articles, images, and headlines that lays out like the most beautiful of blogs.
Advantage: Gorgeous, fun to do, relevant, and good information on the things you care about most.
Disadvantage: Like Spezify, it relies on you telling it what you like. That's a more forward approach that not everybody is going to do. It is definitely beauty and brains combined, but not everybody wants that in their news.
You have to give Netvibes its due. It's quite similar to My Yahoo with just a little higher level of sheen to it, and its creators have really sweated the details. The picking of content is very intuitive, and you don't feel as though you ever leave the environment to do it. Its ability to morph into a reader is smart and lays waste to your standard RSS viewers, like Google Reader or Bloglines.
Advantage: It just feels like the latest and greatest. Easily customizable, easy to fall in love with, easy to embrace, and you find yourself just wanting it to be your new homepage from the moment you set it up.
Disadvantage: If a modular look at all your news is your thing, My Yahoo still seems to have a few more options for customizing. It's simply been out longer and has had more time to add new features. But Netvibes is ahead in other areas -- and catching up quickly with the customization features.
The other sites I've listed are either a set-it-and-leave-it experience or a tell-me-what-you-want experience. Personal preference usually will guide you toward one or the other. However, if you want a hybrid, perhaps Alltop is your choice. With Alltop, you set your own page from an impressive list of blogs and sites. But then you can create a whole new page around a search term, as well. It has to be in its directory, but Alltop boasts a pretty big directory. It will also suggest "hot topics" and "new topics." At first glance, it appears almost too ascetic and too easy. But a few minutes in, you realize this site is both deep and amazingly full of exactly the news you care about.
Advantage: Its list of terms is extensive and culturally relevant. It is, in fact, hard to stump it on topics. It lays out articles beautifully and with a keen eye for that which is interesting.
Disadvantage: What it pulls is only the name of the blog and the five most recent headlines. That's not quite enough information for most people, although it does create for a very clean page. But make no mistake: It's Alltop's way or the highway. And, as impressive as the list is, it's not everything. But if you buy into its vision, this might be your favorite of them all.
Aggregating the aggregators
If you're looking for a place to keep track of the progress of sites like these, you can always get the latest reviews of RSS readers and feeders at LifeHacker. It not only features the web-based sites, like the ones I've listed here, but also apps, desktop software, and tons of browser tricks and add-ons.
See you later, aggregator.