Review: Prismatic for iPad – Gathering the Best News and Articles Automatically

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With the onslaught of digital content, a lot of smart companies have launched news aggregation apps for the iPad in the last several years. Zite and Flipboard are the two news aggregation apps on my iPad home screen, and I tend to favor Zite over Flipboard. However, I’m always interested in trying a new news aggregation app, and Prismatic is the latest contender.

It should be mentioned that overshadowing all of these worthy companies and their apps is Facebook, the 600 pound gorilla, and their launch of Paper for iPhone. There’s no iPad-specific version of Paper yet, but it will certainly arrive soon.

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For the sake of this review and conversation, I’m distinguishing between news aggregation apps and RSS readers such as Feedly, Mr. Reader, etc.. Prismatic, like Zite and Flipboard, is using an algorithm to sift and present the best content – articles, videos, blog posts – from the social-sharing firehose.

Visually and algorithmically, Prismatic does a great job with their first version of the app. Visually, Prismatic presents articles and content with large images and bolded headlines – typically with two headlines and sizable photos displayed on the iPad screen. If you click on the article, you can read the content in a very attractive, ad-free layout designed for easy reading – or scanning.

From a business model standpoint, I do have to wonder about the ad-free issue. Like most other thinking people, I detest many banner ads or Google text ads – and the visual ways that most web publishers have dreamed up to try and catch your attention. However, I do know the publishing business. You simply can’t get high-quality content without some type of advertising business model (in the absence of a subscription model), and as much as I enjoy reading web content via Prismatic, if Prismatic skyrockets in popularity, I think web publishers will eventually block Prismatic’s crawlers from grabbing content.

But, I don’t want to get sidetracked with that digital publishing business discussion. The fact is, many publishers, including deep-pocketed publishers who have poured money into designing their own apps, could learn something valuable from Prismatic’s visual design. They could learn how to deliver their digital content in a beautiful way that will only boost the number of people who read the content.

As I mentioned, Prismatic is intent on sifting the link-sharing firehose of social media and determining what content is worth presenting within the Prismatic app. On that note they succeed very well. When, you first log into Prismatic, you are prompted to connect to various social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter. Prismatic then sifts through your interactions, your own shares of articles and content, and your friend’s content shares via social media to design your own news feed of content that Prismatic believes will be of interest to you. With that, Prismatic succeeds very well.

When I opened Prismatic after connecting my social media accounts, I saw a list of articles covering a wide range of topics – productivity, gadgets, iOS, marketing, etc.. I immediately dove in and began reading and discovering a wide variety of articles that were new to me.

However, when I wanted to share these articles beyond Prismatic or to bookmark them via Instapaper or Evernote, I ran into problems. Prismatic offers sharing via email, Twitter or Facebook. However, when I chose Twitter or Facebook, Prismatic doesn’t offer any auto-populated headline. I literally didn’t know what I was sharing. Plus, when I hit Post, I got a message that I was sharing the article via Prismatic (in addition to Twitter) – something that wasn’t clear at all from the on-screen navigation. Plus, there was no integration with Evernote, Paper, Instapaper, or Buffer, some of the most popular read later, social sharing apps.

That sharing”via Prismatic” leads to something that I haven’t discussed yet. Again, because it’s not readily decipherable from browsing the app, it certainly appears to me that Prismatic is trying to do something very interesting – build its own Prismatic social network atop the app and the content you read and share.

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I think this is admirable, but could prove to be a tough business given the other competitors in this space. But, hey I don’t think app companies should shy away from tough challenges, and I wish Prismatic well. Bottom line, while I still use Zite and Flipboard, Prismatic has quickly become one of the first apps I check each morning to discover new and interesting content.

Good:

Prismatic is quickly becoming a daily news app for me. Their algorithm for sifting and finding content is working well.

The visual design is beautiful and is designed to help you discover and consume the content you’re interested in.

Bad:

The onboarding process for new users could be much improved with either videos or a web page explaining the sharing and social networking features integrated within Prismatic. For most time-crunched app users, Prismatic’s social/discussion layer is not intuitive.

Prismatic needs to integrate ASAP with read later services – Pocket, Instapaper, etc. – and Buffer and similar social tools.

If Prismatic explodes in popularity, some publishers are going to look long and hard at Prismatic presenting their content ad-free.

No landscape mode! Prismatic team, please fix this ASAP. I often read and browse news on my iPad while I’m eating, and I angle my iPad’s Flip Cover for easy reading. Prismatic’s lack of landscape mode is frustrating.

Here’s an App Store link for Prismatic; it’s a free app.

Disclosure: The post author reviewed Prismatic which is a free app. For information on our review policies please see our About page.

Jeff Rutherford

Voracious reader, 17+ years as digital PR/marketing guy, early adopter, quilter, podcaster, and CrossFit cultist. Live in Western Massachusetts with my wife and 2 boys in a house built in 1850.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Prismatic for iPad – Gathering the Best News and Articles Automatically

  1. I too prefer Zite over Flipboard although I have noticed some things that I “liked” that no longer appear, most noticeably The Macelope from Macworld.com. I am big on not liking ads and the Ad Block as a Safari plugin on the Mac is shockingly effective — I wish there was similar for iOS Safari.

    Because Zite seems to be blocked more and more I will have to give Prismatic a try. I don’t generally care to share articles to social sites, but I am very curious to see what it would come up with.

    Very informative article! I very much feel like I know what I’m getting into before downloading the app.

  2. @Jim Despite my quibbles, outlined in the review, Prismatic is quickly becoming the first news app I check each morning, before I check Zite. And, I occasionally check Flipboard but certainly not every day.