There’s more than one kind of e-reading app. Not only do people read e-books with their phones and tablets, they also read the news there. Given that finding new subjects to blog about is one of the biggest challenges I face in writing for TeleRead, I’m always interested in news aggregators with any potential to help.
Today, I’m looking at Algo. a “semantic search engine for customizable news” for iOS, which proclaims itself to be “the only true real-time news aggregator.” We’ll see about that.
I’m actually not sure exactly why I even have Algo. It was in the news-aggregator folder of my first-generation iPad, but I can’t remember ever actually using it. Perhaps I put it there at a suggestion from David Rothman back in the day, or maybe I downloaded it because it looked interesting and I was seeking an alternative to the discontinued Zite? I don’t know. But since it made the jump to my new iPad with all my other software, there it was, like a surprise gift from my past self. So I’ve been taking a look at it.
The current version of Algo has four tabs—a “Trending” tab, which is effectively like the front page of a newspaper and carries “top stories” from all over the web; “Your News,” which is where you can set up subjects and keywords for the app to follow for you; “Saved Articles,” where any articles you star are bookmarked; and a settings tab, for adjusting a few elements of the app’s style.
There’s nothing special or noteworthy about the “Trending” tab. The news doesn’t seem to be assigned based on any of the custom categories I set up, so they weren’t really of a whole lot of interest to me. I could see about the same selection of stories on the front page of Google News or any other such app.
The “Your News” tab is the one where the reader is supposed to shine. It allows you to define categories and key words you want to keep up on. You can pick from a catalog of broad categories, such as “Science & Tech,” or drill down to individual publications, or enter your own key words. Here, I got decidedly mixed results, as the “freshness” of the available stories varied depending on what key word or category I chose.
The predefined categories in the app are all pretty well-stocked. If I go to the “Apple” category, every one of the couple dozen or so stories on the front page is under an hour old. If I go to “Science & Tech,” the first dozen or so are and the oldest is only a couple of days. But if I go to keywords I set up myself, I get some very mixed results.
Some, like “Amazon,” have a lot of fresh stuff in them, frequently-updated. But if I go to “E-Readers,” the freshest story is two days old, the oldest is five. “Ebooks” has one one-day old story (the Joe Wikert piece on indexing we carried a couple of days ago) and then everything else ranges from one week to one month old! “Ebook Reader” is full of four-, five-, and six-day-old news, then ranging into weeks and a month. And so on. So much for being a “real time” news aggregator.
You also end up getting the kind of false positive result that you get any time you search on a popular term. Mixed in with all the stories about Jeff Bezos’s corporation is a piece about Brazil’s most isolated indigenous tribes facing annihilation. The “Space” category has “Show Us Your Outdoor Space!” mixed in with all the stories about space exploration. And so it goes.
Once you find and tap on a story you like, you get the first paragraph or so of the text, then buttons to “Read More” or “Share.” The “Read More” button opens the complete article from its original source in the Safari browser, with a “Done” button at the top left you can tap when you’re finished reading to return to Algo, and the “Share” button accesses iOS’s standard sharing interface. You can also “star” articles from the list or the first-paragraph view to save them to your “Saved Articles” tab. (I tend to share them to Instapaper instead, since that way I can easily pull them up on my desktop for writing about.)
And that’s all there is to Algo, really. My rule-of-thumb measure of the quality of a news aggregator application is how well it can find me any stories that my daily RSS trawl misses. Given that most of the e-book categories in it contain only days-old news, it doesn’t seem like Algo is going to work for me in that regard.
Will it work for you? Given that it’s free, you might as well try it for yourself. I wasn’t very impressed, though.