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Monday, October 11, 2010

Quick thoughts on Summify, a simple and fast social news aggregator


Continuing the thread here of next generation of content readers, I wanted to give some brief thoughts on Summify, and browser-based newsreader that promises to algorithmically "cure your unread item guilt" by presenting you stories posted by your social networks in Twitter and Facebook, as well as meshing in your subscriptions from Google Reader.

Now, "unread item guilt" is something I never had.  I was always happy consuming feeds on the come, never being the least bit anxious about the bold black type on the left of my browser window.  But I can assure you this is not the norm.  At FeedBurner, we spent a whole lotta time making sure in the course of processing billions of feed items that we never mistakenly changed an item in a way that would mark it "unread" again in the thousands of different feed readers that calculated what made an item changed in various different ways.

There really are two types of people in the world, those who care about the unread count in their newsreaders and sane people, and although I'm kidding, anyone who subscribes to more than 100 feeds or follows more than 100 accounts on Twitter just is not going to get to read all the items that come in from that stream.

Summify tries to solve this by looking at both your items and your contacts (or friends) and presenting you a river of news, ranking on thinks like number of retweets, facebook likes and shares, and direct shares from your contact list.

It's still in private beta, so I'm guessing they haven't hit any scaling walls yet, but as of right now, the UI is very snappy and useable in a way that many ajax-heavy UIs are not, which is encouraging.

Where I've recently talked a lot about how twitter is protocol with a payload, and that we're going to start seeing a new crop of news readers that unpack this payload, Summify falls squarely into this category.   Much like Twitter for iPad, Summify unpacks short URLs in Twitter and displays a parsed version of the destination web page (or perhaps matches the content from the feed, I can't really tell) right inside Summify application.

In fact, if you only connect Summify to your Twitter account, I find it slightly more useful than #newtwitter for browsing content.

Although you can connect Summify to Google Reader and have it pull in your subscriptions from Google Reader, I don't recommend doing this right now, simply because there currently is no way to undo this.  There's a pane that clearly says this is coming soon, but if you have hundreds of feeds in Google Reader like I do, these feeds will soon overrun your Twitter stream, and frankly doesn't add a lot over using Google Reader by itself in the "Recommended Items" view.

In short though, I really like the direction Summify is going here, mostly because it's simple, useful, and fast. I think they should keep it that way and spend a lot of time keeping it fast as they scale. If it stays simple, stays useful, and stays fast, I can see this being a go to browser UI for news reading.
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