Google Reader is almost officially dead. Just a few more short weeks, and it will be gone forever (it goes away on July 1st, in case you needed a reminder). Since Google broke users' hearts back in March, announcing the product's demise, other companies have been rushing to provide an adequate replacement for users who aren't willing to give up RSS. Sure, there were already alternatives, but Google's announcement lit a fire underneath them and others looking to create new products, as the opportunity was created for them to obtain a lot of new users.
One potential replacement that has been around for quite a while, News360, is taking a somewhat different approach than some of the others like Feedly and Digg. Interestingly, their philosophy is similar to Google's when it comes to the changing landscape of how people consume their news.
“As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process. Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day – replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day,” Richard Gringras, Senior Director, News & Social Products at Google told Wired.
A spokesperson for News360 tells WebProNews, "Clearly there will be people who miss the simplicity of source-based feed subscription models, but I think it's time we admit that RSS -- as transformative as it was when it launched in 1999 -- is no longer equipped to handle the amount of content the web churns through every day. It's not enough to just aggregate - the onus is still on the user to process all of that data. Creating a 'replacement' for Google Reader today is like buying a black & white TV and hoping the picture is in color."
News360 has 3 million users, and was built by a group of Google Reader "super users" long before Google's announcement, in response to the fact that they could no longer keep up with the amount of headlines they were getting through Reader every day.
"Right now, News360 is solving a very different problem from Reader," CEO Roman Karachinsky tells us. "Instead of giving you updates on a specific set of feeds, we're about understanding your interests and finding great content specifically for you -- from sources you might not even know about yet. Essentially, we focus on helping users discover new, important content in line with personal interests, rather than just regurgitating existing feeds."
"We were very active Google Reader users ourselves and really loved the product, but at some point we realized that there was just too much content out there to have to manually keep everything in order and look at every headline," says Karachinsky. "So News360 was developed to address our '10,000+ unread items' Google Reader accounts. The point of News360 is to be a smart app that is comprehensive, highly customizable and discovery oriented, without requiring you to manage feeds or browse through hundreds of headlines daily from high-volume sources. You can trust the intelligence-powered technology on the backend to get you everything you need and want to know, and you don't have 1,000 headlines sitting in your feed."
"News360 focuses on offering the perfectly balanced news diet, combining the news you need to be a well-informed person (major world headlines) with the news you want about your personal hobbies and passions," he adds. "This ensures that you’re up to speed with current events while also expanding your horizons with the discovery of new topics, stories and sources. We believe that striking the balance between the news you need and news you want is essential to eliminating time spent sifting through hundreds of headlines."
"In News360, we let users choose what sources and topics they prefer, and also make recommendations based on what we know about them and their reading habits," he continues. "We try to marry the best of both worlds -- showing users what they want to read before they have to go looking for it, and empowering users to edit their newsfeeds down to the very detail to capture specific preferences. That means you can edit categories with x-ray vision and adjust a science section to include space exploration but exclude chemistry, and a tech section to include startups but exclude Oracle."
Google Reader has had a particular appeal to journalists and bloggers who, as part of their job, must keep up with the latest news in their particular field of expertise. They're going to need a replacement that lives up to these needs, and may opt for more of a Google Reader clone, like what Feedly is currently offering, for example. While News360 operates in a significantly different way, Karachinsky still thinks it can fill the void adequately.
"Since News360 is so customizable, we think it can cater to all kinds of newsreaders," he tells us. "Journalists and news hounds can add any of our millions of topics and hundreds of thousands of news outlets to their feeds. But even though you can subscribe to topics and sources in News360, we serve a distinctly different purpose than Reader, because our algorithms analyze content and user behavior to make the perfect match between a user and an article. Once you spend some time with the app, it’ll learn the level of detail you want from different sources and topics, and conform to the different professional and personal reading patterns you have."
News360 takes the liberty of deciding which stories are important to its users. When asked about how it determines which ones fit the bill, Karachinsky says, "News360 tracks dozens of parameters for every story - who’s covering it, how, how quickly it’s spreading through mainstream news and social media, etc. If there is major world news that is being reported on in a wide range of sources, we think News360 readers should know about it. These important stories will show up in the category 'Top Stories,' which is automatically a part of each user’s homefeed, unless it’s removed. Integrating these big headline stories right into personalized news streams helps maintain the right news diet, ensuring that users aren’t missing out and don’t need to go searching for everything they want to read."
On the personalization process, he says, "News360's advanced artificial intelligence and semantic analysis technology learns from users' reading patterns and behavior across their social cloud (FB, Twitter, Evernote and Google+) to strike the careful balance between feeding users content they know they like and content they're predicted to enjoy. Once we have an initial understanding of your interests, the personalization engine continues to analyze your actions to refine your profile. Occasionally it tries to present new topics and sources it think you could be interested in, and judges your reaction to determine if these should be added to your profile. Serendipity is important too, so sometimes it’ll just surface some high-quality, but unexpected content in your feed."
The product promises to give you "all points of view" on news stories, meaning you shouldn't be getting biased reports from one angle only, unless of course, you want it that way.
"News events are displayed in clusters to cut down on repetition of sources and stories and easily let users see how each publication covered an event," explains Karachinsky. "This exposes media biases and enables users to read every viewpoint."
News360 had two separate apps in Apple's App Store - one for iPhone and one for iPad, but they're one of them, as they made the iPad app universal so that it is optimized for either screen. The iPhone app will be pulled once everyone updates to the universal app.
"The new universal app has all the same features and design that News360 iPhone users are accustomed to, and also includes a new, more streamlined sign-up process, which lowers the barrier to personalization, and the option to mute news outlets," says Karachinsky.
There is also an Android app.
As it stands right now, you can connect your Google Reader account to News360 so it gets that data. Obviously, you'll have to do that soon if you want that connection. If you do so, you won't have to worry about it after Reader goes away.
"All the things that people import from Google Reader when they create their account are stored within News360, so nothing will get lost when Google Reader shuts down," Karachinsky says. "We’re also working on more features in the app to help the people who rely heavily on feed-based consumption to help that port that behavior over to News360."
This week, News360 launched a new native advertising program, so you can expect to see some sponsored content in your feed. We're told that they will be adding new partners in the coming weeks.