App Review: Zite

Zite on iPadThere’s no shortage of news readers in the App Store but Zite stands out as one of the best. Think of Zite as a personal news magazine that scours the internet to find articles you’ll enjoy. After you link a few social media services and pick a few favorite categories, Zite gets to work filling your screen with articles it thinks you’ll like. It does a really great job too.

The longer you use Zite the better it gets. If you read an article you like, just give it a thumbs up to tell Zite it’s been doing a good job. Find an article you don’t like? A simple thumbs down will let Zite know. All of this data is used to continually improve the recommendations Zite pushes to you. If you’re social media accounts are linked up it uses articles that are posted by people you follow to also improve your results. The whole system is simple but creates a great news experience.

The interface is very clean and they’ve added some nice gesture shortcuts. You can easily thumbs up or down an article by a little swipe up or down on the square. To read an article in full just tap it and it brings it up. You can use the built in “reader” mode or view the full Web page. Sharing articles is extremely easy and incorporates all your favorite social media sites, email and even “read later” services like Pocket.

You can set up favorite topics so you can always keep up to date with the latest news on Google, hockey or whatever you’re into. Articles are tagged by categories and you can click one of those tags to see more about that topic. If you like it, just star it and it’ll show up in your favorite list so you can easily stay up to date with that type of content. Your favorites influence your “Top Stories” section as well.

Zite on iPhoneI started using Zite on my iPad at the suggestion of a friend and haven’t stopped using it since. After using it a while I wished there was a way to get that content elsewhere and it wasn’t long before they answered my desire with an iPhone app. The same content in a smaller on the go package.

If I had to give one complaint to Zite it’s that it doesn’t refresh content often enough. There doesn’t seem to be a way you can force a refresh and I’ll find myself flicking through articles I’ve already ready, longing for more. It does seem to randomly add articles throughout the day but I’d like a way to get more after I’ve read through them all and thumbed up and down the results.

Ok, maybe I have one more complaint or rather a request… I want a Web or desktop client. I spend at least eight hours a day at the computer and I want to keep up on my Zite reading. Sure I can pull out my iPad or iPhone but it’d be a lot nice if I could just have a browser window or a desktop app available. It’s a small thing but it’d be a great addition if you ask me.

Overall I can’t recommend Zite enough. It does more than just pull your feeds for reading, it actually learns what you like and don’t like and then presents you with a great selection of articles all over the Web. Go check it out in the App Store and let me know what you think in the comments.

Quick Review: iPad mini

Hand holding an iPad mini.Apple’s done it again. They created something that made me go “why would anyone, let alone me, want that?” This time of course it was the iPad mini but it wasn’t long ago Mr. Jobs introduced the original iPad. While it seemed kind of cool, I couldn’t figure out how it could be all that useful. Turns out I was wrong. After a few months of reading about and playing with store models, I was intrigued. Sure I couldn’t build websites or do any kind of profesional level graphic design with it but for everyday tasks it seemed great.

I was fortunate enough to start using an iPad a few months ago and instantly fell in love with it. I found most of the time having a browser, email and tons of time-wasting-but-loads-of-fun games was more than sufficient. I even started using it as an e-reader. It really shined for taking notes at meetings allowing me not to have to lug around my laptop.

Recently I got even luckier and was able to upgrade to an iPad mini. Everything I loved about the iPad but in a smaller, more ideal size. Reading on a mini is so much more convenient too. It feels about the size of novel and is easy to hold in one hand. When it was announced I thought the iPad mini would be too small to really get anything done. It turns out Apple’s picked the perfect size and weight. It’s easy to carry around, it still has a lot of space to do things and best of all it runs all of the iPad apps already out there.

I was extremely surprised how much I preferred it to a full-sized iPad. The biggest complaints I’ve read about are the lack of retina display and it’s small size. Honestly I don’t find the screen to be a big deal. Sure retina displays are beautiful but I don’t know if it’s entirely necessary (of course when the retina display does arrive, I’ll probably rave about it and be jealous I don’t have one, such is life).

As I said before the size is perfect in my opinion. The iPad was great but it always felt a little awkward to hold, especially with on hand, and was definitely hard to type without going one-finger peck style or setting it down on something. With the mini I can use the familiar two-side grasp and thumb typing I’m used to on my iPhone. Best of all it fits in an inside coat pocket rather nicely, which makes bringing it places pretty easy. I think part of the size complaints stem from how it was billed in the media as a seven inch tablet. In real life it’s much closer to an eight inches and because it’s taller than the 16:9 widescreen ratio many Android tablets use, it’s actually feels comparatively large.

Overall I’d say they’ve done a fine job. It’s not revolutionary like the original iPad but it definitely improved on some of my iPad complaints. The iPad mini is a fun little tablet with a great size, decent price and all the App Store goodness iOS devices provide. I have to highly recommend it.

Opinion: TV Ratings are Broken

I’m an avid television watcher. At any given time, I’m actively following 10 or more shows. I just love TV. All kinds of TV. I’m not alone either. TV is big business and brings in billions of dollars to networks every year. This is why I can’t believe those networks are completely ignoring the people who actually follow their shows. You’re canceling the wrong shows!

You’ve probably heard the term Nielsen Ratings thrown around. Nielsen is a company that’s been around pretty much since the dawn of TV giving the networks a magic number that’s supposed to represent viewership. Their system to do this? Basically, it has not changed for decades. Nielsen essentially puts a magic recorder on a several thousand TVs in households around the country. Despite being an extremely small percentage of the population, Nielsen claims they have a sample size that is representative of the nation.

So these recorders keep track of what the families are watching (TV shows, commercials and recently even same day DVRed shows). Every night Nielsen collects the data, packages it up in fancy charts and sends it off to the networks. For a more detailed look at how this all works check out this article I found quite helpful.

This all sounds straight forward, and I’m sure 30 years ago it was a very good way of knowing what people were watching. My problem is, not everyone watches TV like this anymore. Their data is skewed and in my opinion irrelevant in today’s TV watching landscape.

Think about this for a minute… do you watch your favorite show when it’s on TV? Sure I love to watch Community, but I’m usually not home on Thursday nights, so I always catch up on Fridays via Hulu. I’m not alone. A great number of people are changing the way they consume TV shows. Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and even on-demand cable are options many people (especially the younger generations) are using daily. Only measuring shows based on “live” viewers is ridiculous and archaic.

As the earlier mentioned article points out, neither Nielsen nor the networks really care. They want to sell ads, and everyone involved is used to the current system and just take it at its word. They have no intention or desire to change. As a TV fan, I’m outraged.

This is exactly why great shows like Firefly and Friday Night Lights get canceled while complete crap shows like Two and Half Men or Mike and Molly stay on the air. It’s just not fair to television viewers, show creators and even network executives for such lousy data to be making such big decisions about what’s on TV.

This is my plea for a new way of measuring viewership. It’s time internet streaming, iTunes downloads and cable on-demand viewers get their proper say in what stays on the air. Who cares if I’m watching ads on Hulu versus live TV. You can still make money off of my TV show addiction; you just need to think bigger. Let the music industry’s inability to change and embrace technology be a cautious tale of what staying with the status quo will bring.

All I know for sure is Nielsen clearly doesn’t represent me, and I know I’m not the only one. Here’s to major change in the TV ratings game!

***UPDATE—Feb. 21, 2013***

Hot on the heels of my post, Nielsen has agreed to expand its definition of TV viewing. One can only assume they read my post and were convinced it was the right thing to do. 😉

Why the posting has been slow

The last few months I haven’t blogged as much as I would have like. This was due to a number of things but mostly because my Web host (MODHOST, which I highly DO NOT recommend anymore) was throwing errors left and right. Every time I’d contact support they’d tell me nothing was wrong , despite the fact I was clearly getting server errors. Anyway, I’ve moved to a new host and hopefully things will be better. There might be some intermittent down time as I attempt to migrate this blog and all of my other sites over to my new host.


Everything seems to have gone well (knock on wood). Hopefully it stays that way and I can update more regularly again.

Project: Partners in Dance

Screenshot of WMU Partners in Dance website.

I  recently launched a website project at work for Partners in Dance, which is a community support group for Western Michigan University’s Department of Dance. It was a fun project because there wasn’t a ton of content and I could have a little fun with the design.

I opted to keep it very clean and simple with a big, bold area for photos. The dance department provided me with some great shots from previous performances. I noticed most of the pictures had a natural “fade to black” quality to them. I capitalized on this by creating a black band at the top of the page. I then set it to randomly choose from a variety of images that all make it seem like the photo exists across the entire top of the page.

The “Partners in Dance” logotype at the top carries over from a brochure they had made previously. The rest of the type is a Google web font called Lato. I was trying to find a nice sans-serif with a good mix of weights and Lato seemed to fit the bill.

Below are a few more screenshots, but be sure to check out and explore the live site. Feedback? Questions? Leave them in the comments.

Screenshot of WMU Partners in Dance website.

Screenshot of WMU Partners in Dance website.

Screenshot of WMU Partners in Dance website.