Why I Stopped Using Zite

I started using news aggregators like Flipboard, News360, Zite, Summly, Rockmelt almost from the minute they came out. Initially, I found them amazingly useful–they helped me rediscover blogs or authors I had forgotten, they introduced me to new bloggers, and they widened my perspective on topics I was already reading about. I quickly realized that it was highly unproductive to try to follow even just a couple of them, so I picked Zite as my aggregator of choice.

For a while I was amazed by the productivity I could achieve and the quality of content the app allowed you to find—even when originally published on less known sources. Yes, every now and then the “algorithm” served up articles from content farms, but I could indicate that I didn’t want more of these, and they would go away.

After a few months, the discovery of new bloggers naturally declined. But more importantly, I noticed that the “algorithm” was increasingly incapable of sorting out the low quality content (things like top ten lists, if you know what I mean). In fact, it seemed to be less sophisticated than it initially appeared.

I gave some other services a second chance, but found that the situation was no different. So, in conjunction with the closing of Google Reader, I had to go back and select a new reader and, in the process, manually create a new list of feeds. Certainly I have Zite and co. to thank for many of the sources that I now follow, but in the end, I went back to a smaller, more qualified list of content sources that I refer to daily.

What this tells me is that the algorithm has still room for improvement. As providers of a deep linguistic/semantic platform, I can tell you that you can do much better from what the current apps are offering. However, this won’t be enough—human curation is still necessary.

The lesson here is this: You cannot completely avoid a certain level of complexity if you want to enjoy a certain level of quality.

The benefit of good technology is its ability to turn an unmanageable quantity of content into something manageable. In this case, a good technology is one that supports curation by making a rich set of attributes available in order to select what is important and filter information in a fast, rich and effective way. At this point, the information becomes something that human can manage.

And for now, at least, this is something that we are still better at.


Luca Scagliarini

Luca Scagliarini is the VP, Strategic and Business Development of Expert System, responsible for leading the company’s international expansion. He has held product marketing positions at Hewlett Packard in Italy and in the US. After leaving HP he joined SiteSmith, a managed services start up, where as Manager of the Services product line, he helped to build the company’s offering that contributed to an impressive first year growth of more than 100 customers and its ultimate sale to Metromedia Fiber Network. Before joining Expert System he was the VP Field Marketing Europe with think3, a leading provider of PLM solutions. Luca holds an Engineering Degree from the Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and an MBA from Santa Clara University (California, USA).

2 responses on “Why I Stopped Using Zite

  1. Thank you for sharing. First of all, I must confess: I’m an avid Zite user. Despite this, I can’t disagree with you a bit. Quoting Clarke’s third law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” I think that the average user is no longer able to distinguish quantity from quality. This is the main reason for the statistic search success and it will be soon its ruin. I strongly believe in human curation to seize the better possible level of accuracy in providing search result. But it is valuable as long as a system do not rely too much (or totally) in crowdsourced curation. Take my case: I spent a lot of time favoring and un-favoring contents on Zite and at the end of the day the result was a smaller number of new contents from a narrowed bouquet of feeds. So I quit favoring and now I just flip away silly contents like top ten lists (they are a plague). This is how statistic algorithm cause loss of an important resource: human curation.

    • L.Scagliarini L.Scagliarini says:

      Mauro, thanks for your comment. On both news feeds and search, I believe in a happy medium. If, for example, the favourite and unfavorite mechanism would be a bit more sophisticated and instead of just including or excluding a feed, if it would consider other contextual information (i.e. topics, feelings expressed, time of the day etc.) maybe you would still prefer its results to having to flip away silly content. But also in this case there would be a limit beyond which, I think, human curation would bring a better overall experience.

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