Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Time has come to change how we read

Google Reader is dead. Long live reading.

If you are from the real world and happened upon posts from any-and-every tech blog, you wouldn’t be mistaken in assuming that today marks the demise of the written word, now that Google’s offed Google Reader.

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Image Source: Business Week

But as Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine, notes, most people don’t know Google Reader from Google Currents, less so care about its disappearance:

As a blogger this might be blasphemy, but the online echo chamber when beloved products, however esoteric, change or shut down is out of control. Worse, it might convince us, through repetition, that these things matter. Regardless of what your social media circles might indicate, the universe will not mourn Reader because the amount of people whose job (or even hobby) it is to consume and process news is actually minuscule. Thankfully.

As a matter of fact, in their rush to tease out the minutiae, I fear we have missed the big picture. There is a fundamental disruption happening in how news is consumed.

Many apps (Digg, Aol, Feedly) are scrambling to jump on the RSS bandwagon by touting their next Google Reader but fact is we are already seeing attempts at more efficient ways to consume news.

And RSS is only part of that story.

What’s the New TiVo of News?

Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker, writes of the problem that ailed Google Reader:

But a feed reader still represents a fundamentally different vision of gathering information than the social model that has gripped the Web. It is largely a single-user enterprise—a digital monk diligently scanning feeds. And it is intensely focussed on the Web sites most important to the user, rather than the omnivorous grazing that characterizes scanning news on social media, as links are surfaced by the people the user follows.

Fact is most of the sites I recommend below have moved away from the RSS-only model while curating social content, in many cases with a lil help from an expert – a trait most successfully used by Gabe Rivera and his trinity of popular news aggregation insider sites Techmeme (Technology), Memeorandum (Politics), and Wesmirch (Celebrity).

As Matt says:

Everybody consumes the Web differently, so it’s hard to imagine a single reading service that works for every person. But it seems reasonable to think that one combining a person’s deep and abiding interests with the serendipity of social media could work for most.

But the future for news readers is brighter than ever and here’s not one, not two, but five different reasons why:

1. Flipboard

The one news app I cannot live without today would have to be – without doubt – my Flipboard.

Flipboard pulls together the disparate threads of news that course through our ubiquitous social media world and makes gorgeous sense of it. Everything from your LinkedIn to Facebook updates, YouTube to Instagram (even SoundCloud), and most importantly, your Twitter followings are displayed in an elegant magazine like format. It’s the kind of design one normally expects from Apple, and Flipboard’s attention-to-detail here is impressive (Follow their designer, @craigmod).

The important distinction to make here is that Flipboard is primarily a consumption device. Though it provides you options to tweet or update your status on any of your social accounts, the beauty of Flipboard is its visual clarity and the ability to on-board you with great news right away.

2. Feedly

For those hard-core Google Reader users who fret-and-fumed since the announcement-to-shutter was made, Feedly has been a god-send. Not only has Feedly invested the most in making this a smooth transition for users, they have also made the most gains among the same user base (up to 3 million users now). In addition, they now support lost RSS reader tools (like @reeder and @newsify) stay alive.

From a user perspective, what feedly has done is provide a quick replacement for Google Reader with a blazing fast cloud service, which you can find at Feedly Cloud. What’s most shocking to me in this whole scenario is why Google didn’t transition those influential Google Reader users to Google Currents – their Flipboard wannabe – the same way Flipboard did!

What Feedly does with its aggressive push into the Google Reader space remains to be seen, but I’d watch out for what they have up their sleeve next.

3. Newsify

All great news consumption apps start on mobile. Flipboard set the standard and, believe it or not, Newsify and Reeder are two similar apps with similar credentials.

RSS subscriptions, unlike the real-time ephemeral nature of social, add up pretty fast in an inbox and what you found is that you had to declare news bankruptcy pretty soon, deleting days worth of RSS content.

What you need is a pictorial, almost Pinterest-like, visualization that allows you to skim through hundreds of posts while picking out the ones that seem most interesting. If it’s 4.5 star app rating is any indication, Newsify seems to have nailed that experience for the iPhone and the iPad.

4. The Modern Op-ed: Quora and Medium

What Huffington Post successfully started, Quora and Medium have tried to emulate. The goal: to find and amplify excellent sources of authoritative analysis, with topics ranging from breaking news to expertise across varying categories.

While Quora is focused on news-via-experience, Medium seems to have perfected the art of the modern op-ed, democratized it while still maintaining its quality.

But what all these sites do is take the traditional news model and flip it on its head by finding commenters, whose comments are the starting point to creating worthwhile reading, and giving these individuals a platform to write and a community to pontificate.

5. Social News: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Finally, the elephant in the room. Social.

Let’s not forget that all of the above innovation rests on social.

What would Flipboard do without Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn feeds. Would their pages be as interesting or even exist?

Most of what I follow on Flipboard are Twitter lists I’ve created. Most of what most people follow on Flipboard are also built around links shared on social sites. With LinkedIn already showing how a successful social news product should be built around relevance and Facebook clearly showing its cards with what could potentially be a social news engine, we can see the direction that social news is gonna take in the coming years. And it’s gonna be a game changer.

So let me leave you with a question:

How do you get your news today? Is it on Yahoo News or Flipboard or Twitter? Do you read news primarily on your phone as you are boarding the train or on your desktop once you get to work or with a New York Times subscription while you drink coffee in the morning.

Leave me a comment.

Filed under: Curation, Facebook, Journalism, Medium, Quora, Social Media Tools, Tumblr, What's New in Social Media

All the iPhone apps a Writer needs

Since my return to blogging, I’ve been trying to develop a regimen to get my writing in shape. A process during which I’ve put together an ideal stable of iPhone apps that enable me to save your fleeting thoughts – write and publish – whenever, wherever.

Every writer has their writing setup.

This is mine.

forrestgump-feather

I think to be a good writer, you’ve got to read, read, and read more. And then when you’ve an idea – write, write and write – wherever you are. Over time you learn how to discern good from bad writing, understand sentence structures, how to play with them, and finally through that knowledge how to break rules. Robert Louis Stevenson says it best.

All through my boyhood and youth, I was known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler; and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write. I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a penny version-book would be in my hand, to note down the features of the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with words.

If you choose to do the same – “live with words” – in today’s smartphone world, there’s a slew of apps to check out, but the sad fact is most of it is crap. After wasting hours investigating these apps, I’ve curated the best; 4 reading and 4 writing apps, that’ll help every writer keep their New Year resolutions this year.

Reading iOS Apps

My two biggest sources of daily reading are: Twitter, and Google Reader. Anything I see there that I don’t have time to read I schedule for end-of-day on Instapaper; also sent daily to my Amazon Kindle, which is my fourth reading app.

One of the main reasons I picked the apps below is their multi-platform capability. You start reading a book on your Kindle, pick it up on your iPhone’s Kindle app later or maybe read it when you get home at the end of the day: all synced up. Same for the other three apps below.

By syncing a book across platforms, including a Kindle smart phone app, a dedicated Kindle reader, and the audio version, we can read more by reading in smaller chunks. We can get a bit of reading done whenever we have a few minutes. And then we can transition to longer stretches of pleasure reading with our dedicated Kindle reader.

In general I prefer web based apps for twitter and like @Tweetdeck a bunch, but the main reason I switched to Tweetbot was the ability to sync up tweets based on were you read it (Mac, iPad or iPhone).

I was stuck on @reeder, a very pretty Google reader app on Apple’s iOS universe, but given the number of feeds I subscribe to the entire process of reading became a chore.

What I needed was an app that made it easy for me to skim through hundreds of feeds and Newsify is the solution. Works great on the iPad and the iPhone.

This one’s a doozy. I’ve oscillated between Pocket and Instapaper, back and forth, for a while now. But, this past week as I figured out my writing style, I settled on Instapaper. I bet Marco’s smiling. Here’s why.

Search archives: I knew this feature existed, but as a writer, I didn’t realize how critical it was. As I mentioned above, reading is critical, and with a lil digital savvy you shouldn’t have to struggle finding great pieces to link to or re-read just because Chrome does an awful job with their not-so-Awesomebar.

Now if you route all the articles you find, whether it’s on Twitter, Google Reader (Amazon Kindle: can we send highlights and notes to Instapaper?) to Instapaper, now you can search through all of them later so you can link to exactly the right article you’re looking for.

Amazon Kindle integration: There’s magic in the power of habit, powered by the habit of one.

The goal is to channel as many of these curated, high-quality articles, you stumble upon during the day, into one distraction-free reading app just for your eyes, for the end of the day.

Instapaper has this amazing feature to route the day’s read-laters to Amazon Kindle at a specific time of day. I usually set it up for end of day and read these before I get ready to blog for the next day. That routine works great for me. Here’s how to create that setup for yourself. Hat tip @_davidsmith.

Before diving into the details I want to try and explain why this feature is so incredibly useful and has changed so fundamentally how I read content from the web. The Kindle is a device with a singular focus, reading. While it isn’t without flaws, the experience of reading long-form content on the Kindle is the best of any device I’ve tried. The e-ink screen is gentle on your eyes. The insane battery life and tiny size means that you can always have it with you. But most importantly it can only be used for reading which enforces a mental focus that I find very relaxing.

Within that context reading my Instapaper queue on my Kindle is the most comfortable experience I’ve found. I even find it better than the iPad app, which will good in its own right but provides far too much opportunity for distraction.

Agreed, agreed, and agreed.

Writing iOS Apps

Inspiration strikes anywhere. Just ask Galileo.

Today’s digital world allows you to do things that a moleskine just couldn’t. The most important moleskine notebook you can ever have is the one you carry with you everywhere and that’s your phone.

While picking these apps my goal was yet again multi-platform compatibility and inter-operability. The four apps covers the journey your words make from your mind to being written and published.

This goes without saying: it’s always good to carry a dictionary with you and the iPhone app’s dictionary is stellar, not only allowing you to find meanings and synonyms but also helping with pronunciation. I wish there were a similar app for grammar but too bad there isn’t a Kindle version for “Strunk and White’s Elements of Style” – 85 pages of Grammar Gold. That’s Gold, Jerry. Gold!

All you need is a blank page. Now imagine a blank page with a blinking cursor.

As intimidating as it has been for writers world-wide, for centuries; a blank page is the perfect way to get your ideas down as they flow freely onto paper.

And, I can’t think of a better app that allows you to just [focus on the writing, one sentence at a time], while the rest of your words on that page wait for your edits. I can’t recommend iA Writer enough. The best part is that it syncs up your words on iCloud (preferred method) or Dropbox (which would be my second option since it may lose stuff when offline).

Give it a try.

Of course, in some cases when I’m working on projects I have it saved on Google Drive or Google Docs. It’s definitely no iA Writer but if you have your stuff there, then it makes sense to have their iPhone and iPad apps cos it allows you to edit content (spreadsheets or docs) on your iPhone.

The last piece to this puzzle is publishing your thoughts; a blog being the easiest way to accomplish that. My blog’s been on WordPress for two reasons: it was the easiest to setup when I started nearly 8 years ago and it is great at helping your words reach the right audience when they search for your on search engines like Google (it’s called search engine optimization).

But the downside to WordPress is that they suck at designing beautiful apps and frankly their iPhone, iPad app sucks.

So imagine my surprise when I found Poster, the most beautiful, minimalist WordPress app you’re ever gonna find. And, it works with Markdown which I use on iA Writer to write my posts. Secondly, if I want to publish in HTML, iA Writer makes it super-easy to export-copy in HTML which I can then publish in WordPress. Plus, Poster has Dropbox integration so you can carry your posts on the cloud.

** Markdown is the simplest way to format your posts within the realm of your keyboard.

Now that you have all the tools you’ll ever need to write – at any point of time in your daily life – all that remains is to write like you give a fuck.

A better metaphor I couldn’t have thought of, so here goes. Robert Louis Stevenson, take it away

To know the secret of skating is, indeed, I have always thought, the beginning of winter-long pleasance. It comes as sweet deliverance from the tedium of indoor isolation and brings exhilaration, now with a swift glide to the right, now with a deft swerve to the left, now with a deep breath of healthy air, now with a long exhalation of ozone, which the lungs, like greedy misers, have cast aside after draining it of its treasure. But it is not health that we love nor exhilaration that we seek, though we may think so; our design and our sufficient reward is to verify our own existence, say what you will.

And so, my dear young friend, I would say to you: Open up your heart; sing as you skate; sing inharmoniously if you will, but sing! A man may skate with all the skill in the world; he may glide forward with incredible deftness and curve backward with divine grace, and yet if he be not master of his emotions as well as of his feet, I would say—and here Fate steps in—that he has failed.

Filed under: Social Media Tools, Writing

Why do Social Media Management Tools Still Suck?

It’s been over 5 years since I wrote this piece on MarketingProfs referring to Charlene Li’s original post that introduced us to new ways to track social media metrics. Here we are in 2012 and after a review of some of the leading social media “management”, “monitoring” and “listening” tools, it’s too bad that we don’t have a single winner-take-all scenario but rather a mashup of tools, some of which work better than others.

Now, I bet you didn’t come here to read that. What I’d like to do over the next few minutes is to give you a sense of the social media landscape that greets you today. Consider this post a primer on navigating the mess that is social media management.

There are tons of social media management tools out there that’s probably confusing to the novice but the ones you’ve probably heard of are the ones above. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’d highly recommend Jeremiah’s research on this topic.

Where do I begin?

I’m sorry to break this to you but there ain’t a single tool that’s a panacea for all your social media tracking woes. Frankly, you’re gonna find out that there are two kinds of tools that cater to different teams in your organization:

  1. Social Media Management tools (Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, etc.)
  2. Social Media Listening tools (Radian6, Sysomos, Lithium, etc.)

You’re going to find that all of the tools you evaluate is going to perform better either as a management tool or a listening tool. Very few try to do both (For example, Hootsuite) and in those cases, they fail at one of the two. Chances are that most companies and small businesses will start this journey looking for a social media management tool since the first step in evolving your company’s social media brain is “Awareness” where you identify and track your existing social media presence on social platforms. For example, see LinkedIn’s Social Media Presence below:

Step 1 is gonna be to monitor your activity on these key platforms, identify audience growth (# of followers) across platforms and figure out engagement (how to improve RTs or comments via proper copy and scheduling).

Define your criteria

Step 2 is to identify what are the criteria for selecting this social media tool for your company? The social media tool will have to take into account a bunch of internal requirements that you’ve got to map and then find a tool that fall within the parameters you set for yourself. Here are some criteria I mapped before we began the process of identifying potential social media tools at LinkedIn.

Once you define your version of the above criteria (see above), the goal is to come up with a list of tools that fall within the parameters you define. As you go through the list you realize that the primary challenge is finding a tool that’s complex enough to deal with massive datasets (for example, to plan your marketing campaigns on Twitter or run reports around PR campaigns) while at the same time easy enough to be used by everyone on the team to update your company’s status updates.

So, though Tweetdeck is ideal since it’s free and is easiest to use (has basic scheduling of tweets for e.g.) it unfortunately lacks even basic collaboration / report generation features. So, what you eventually end up with is you’re forced to pick either a Social Media Management System, Listening tool or both.

How does your company do social media? And, if you’ve had a different experience and found your ideal social media tool leave a comment or tweet me @mariosundar

Filed under: Social Media ROI, Social Media Tools, , , , , , ,

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