Finding genuinely interesting content on the Internet has become a chore. There’s a lot of rubbish out there that no one cares to read, then there’s the quality stuff that comes in short supply. Most people like to read The New York Times or another major publication like The Wall Street Journal regularly, relying on the same journalists all the time. If you’re like me, however, it’s nice to find something new for your reading list. One writer can always sound the same and that’s not always preferable.
Today I’m going to take a look at Prismatic, a very promising content discovery service that’s available on the Web and as a iPhone app. Join me.
Setting Things Up
“Prismatic: relating to, resembling, or constituting a prism.” — Merriam-Webster
Prismatic is one of the easiest content news apps to set up. All you have to do is create an account by connecting your Facebook, Google+ or Twitter account and it’ll start giving you suggestions of feeds you should add based on what the people you follow are talking about and what you seem to be interested in. For instance, I talked about The Dark Knight Rises a in a recent blog post which was posted to Twitter. Prismatic picked this up and decided to add topics like Anne Hathaway and Batman to my suggestions. It did the same thing for an older Lord of the Rings article I wrote.
When browsing suggestions, you can add them to your list by tapping the + button in the top right corner.
I’ve not found this to be too irritating so far, but some people might see that big list of suggestions that aren’t all that useful as a major turnoff to the app. Some suggestions offered just weren’t accurate or relevant to anything I care about. There was one based on Kansas City, Missouri, for instance, which is probably derived from Google Fiber and all the hype it generated with the omnipresence in my Twitter feed for a good four or five days straight. I didn’t talk about it though, so how could Prismatic just assume I want to hear about it?
One of the coolest abilities that Prismatic has is to check out the local news. If you live in a larger city that actually has somewhat-well-known newspapers in it, this might aid you in finding the most interesting hearsay and whatnot that goes around. I had to use a different city than the one I live in since none of the newspapers here have RSS feeds — sadly outdated, isn’t it? So I added Los Angeles to my feed to stay more informed on what’s going on two-hundred miles from me.
You can add any major city to Prismatic by swiping left, searching for it and pressing the + button.
The end result of this addition was beautiful. There was a surfeit of information on the recent 5.2 magnitude earthquake in the Southern California area. I think this is a great way to stay informed — as an alternative to Twitter, of course. I really liked how all the sources that Prismatic used weren’t just The L.A. Times and other Southern California-based publications. Instead, it used international news outlets such as CNN and The Huffington Post. In my experience, the local news feature works well.
Prismatic is gesture-heavy. When using such a small device as an iPhone, people typically like to use a single hand for reading. Gestures like swiping right to go back and accessing menus by swiping to the left work great for one-handed operation. Prismatic makes great use of right-to-left gestures and such throughout its navigation scheme. For example, you can swipe to the right when reading an article to go back to the previous screen.
Other implementations include swiping right to reveal the search and feed menu, holding and swiping up to select the desired social network that you’d like to share to, and the usual swipe down to refresh. Oh, and speaking of the sharing feature, I’m not wholly partial to how it functions. The problem with a hold-and-swipe gesture is that there’s no way to copy text from an article. I’d really like to see a way of being able to do both and not just one. I think something like Readability and Day One’s swipe-up-or-down for the previous or next entry would be nifty as well.
On an iPhone, reading is one of the last things you are probably wanting to do — unless you’re on a subway home or just driving in light traffic, that is. Whatever the case, should your iPad not be on your person, there must be a backup plan, right? Prismatic does a fair job of helping you enjoy your reading experience on such a small device. Its interface is very minimal and beautiful with no exact times or author’s names polluting the beautiful piece of digital perusal. Well, until you reach that portion of each article which manages to push other people’s annoying opinions about the piece in your face.
As a writer, seeing the exclusion of an author’s name is, to me, a crime. I was appalled by this presentation and urge the developers to at least give credit to the person who wrote the article. I don’t care about exact publishing times — those are secondary. Bylines, however, are vital. An author deserves to have his work showcased in a fair manner, not one that belittles him to a nobody.
Scrolling through news isn’t the same as you’re used to and rather jumps from entry to entry abruptly.
The lack of a byline is only present in the iPhone app and not Prismatic’s web interface. I understand the reasoning behind such an omission: it was superfluous clutter. Regardless of this minimal reasoning, I refuse to use an app that doesn’t display the name of the content’s author.
Moving on to the rest of the content readability, it’s actually not bad once you get used to the occasional group of Tweets about what you’re reading. I suppose this is a good way to generate discussion, but it’s also annoyingly promotive at times. There’s no option to remove the Twitter feedback either, which is a shame.
Prismatic isn’t so much an app as it is a service. I’m not evaluating the iPhone app here as much as I am the service itself because that’s what matters. If I were giving the app a score, it’d be 8/10 with two stars less than perfect for the annoying popups pestering me about adding new feeds using the suggestions it gives me; constant reminders that I’ve the ability to share content is also irritating. There really needs to be a way to turn off the suggestions feature, or at least minimize it like you can other lists in the menu.
That said, I think that Prismatic needs an iPad app to be successful. The service itself is well on its way to being something great, yet there’s the fact that many people, including myself, enjoy reading using a tablet and not a smartphone or computer. Representatives from Prismatic have said time and time again that “An iPad app is on [their] roadmap.” Until it actually appears, I don’t think this service is complete, but it’s going in the right direction.