I had no idea how Jason Pontin's piece, Why Publishers Don't Like Apps, would end, but it was a riveting story, for a guy like me, who believes that what comes first in news is what's new.
I don't think that fancy layout trumps newness. The name "news" tells you what's important about news. Newness. So if you follow that clue, it leads you to the obvious conclusion that news should present first the newest bits we have. What's next? The second newest bits. And third, fourth and so on.
News is one of those things that is that simple. But it takes people a while to get there if they don't allocate the time to take walks in the park and think about this stuff in an organized way. Maybe, as Steve Jobs said, it helps to have dropped acid when you were young.
Pontin has discovered the truth of rivers. He says that Flipboard is an RSS reader. It is! And if you want to do RSS for news the best way to go is rivers.
Why do the Flipboards of the world get the attention from tech execs, VCs, users and the press? It has always been thus. Hypercard was more popular with editors than outliners. They always go for the flashy bits. They think that a glittery carousel is how information should work, ignoring that history hasn't worked that way. Books don't win because of flash. They win because they're readable. It's the words that provide the excitement. Anything that gets in the way is going by the wayside.
Okay so I feel slightly vindicated here. Now while I have your attention, let me point in the next direction. Once you have a river, do something bold and daring. Add the feeds of your favorite bloggers and share the resulting flow with your readers. Let your community compete for readership. And let them feel a stronger bond to you. Then when you learn about that, do some more. (And btw, you're now competing, effectively with your competitors, Facebook and Twitter. Don't kid yourselves, these guys are moving in your direction. You have to move in theirs and be independent of them. Or be crushed.)
I wish I could work with the teams of the best publications. If that could happen, we'd kick ass. But I'm here on the sidelines giving advice that you guys take on very very slowly. It's frustrating, because it's been clear that rivers are the way to go, to me, for a very long time. A lot of ground has been lost in the publishing business while we wait. There's a lot of running room in front of this idea. We can move quickly, if publishers have the will.
PS: The new EC2 for Poets tutorial gets you all the way through a River. Takes a few minutes. And it's free for a year if you're a new Amazon customer.
PPS: This is my personal river. I take my own medicine. It includes lots of feeds from people who read this site. And I'm always open to adding more.