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App Friday: iPhone delivers news in new ways

How do you get your news? Despite all the quacking about print media being dead, plenty of people still get it from newspapers. Admittedly, plenty more people get it from news websites, or RSS readers if they’re tech-savvy. But many people are starting to use their mobile phones.

Mobile is already an important channel for news. The BBC and Guardian are just two news organisations with mobile-optimised sites, while every broadcaster, newspaper and magazine has either launched or is about to launch a mobile app.

The most interesting apps seem to be appearing for the iPhone though, with two apps released in the last month catching our eye: Broadersheet and ZenNews. They take different approaches to aggregating news, both of which are innovative.

Broadersheet is a £2.39 app from a UK startup that’s almost comparable to what TiVo used to do for TV viewers. It aims to learn your preferences, and serve up stories from its list of hundreds of sources accordingly. That means the topics you’re interested in and the sources that you trust.

It works partly through manual setup – you tell it which sources you initially want and tap in topics you’re interested in. But once it’s feeding you news, you can mark stories that you like or want binned to help it fine-tune your profile. Sharing features are coming in a future update.

The idea of a personalised news feed that evolves over time is great, although the risk is of missing out on stories that might not fit your profile, but that you might want to read nonetheless. The wild card element is still important.

Broadersheet’s approach is based entirely on your profile, rather than on what news is hot or not in the wider world. However, that’s where ZenNews comes in. Developed by Zensify, this free app’s App Store blurb talks about “intelligent news analysis” and “Smart Analytics algorithms”. Eh? Basically, it aggregates news from a bunch of sources, including newspapers and broadcasters, but cross-references that against TweetMeme’s directory of what stories people are most linking to on Twitter.

In other words, ZenNews figures out what stories are hot right now. Then it presents them as a tag cloud of key terms – at the time of writing, the biggest tag is ‘balloon’ thanks to that pesky US kid, but others include ‘pakistan’, ‘google’, ‘protests’ and, ahem, ‘death’.

ZenNews’ swipey interface lets you check tag clouds from different news sources, and you can switch to a list view whenever you want for easier reference. It’s very slick. You can download ZenNews here and Broadersheet here.

Both apps are intriguing attempts to shake up the way news is delivered. The ideal would be a mash-up of both — an app that knows your preferences but filters in what’s hot in the wider world too. Maybe even with the ability to see what your friends are most linking to on Twitter and Facebook.

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