Zite CEO Mark Johnson Explains The Redesigned Personalized News App

The goal: Deliver smarter content. "There are really no dead ends" to news discovery, Johnson adds.

Zite just released a new version of its iPhone and iPad apps for iOS 6 that's a welcome change for the CNN-owned personalized news app, which hasn't shifted much since it released its 1.0—Flipboard was one of the few dominant players in the social news landscape then.

Zite creates a personalized magazine for you, powered by a smart discovery engine that sifts through millions of articles daily and combines that data with social signals about your social graph to figure out what stories you'd like to read. In the new version, Zite has expanded to include more than 40,000 interest "topics," up from its previous 2,500. So even if you don't know exactly what you're looking for, you can follow topics and get relevant stories in your own Zite, even if those topics are as diverse and far-flung as "basket weaving" or "kite flying."

CEO Mark Johnson says the old version of Zite didn't do a good job of easily surfacing categories readers might want to follow—it required a bit of work on the user's part. He says the new Zite, with its greatly expanded list of categories, is all about making that discovery process easier for readers, yet in a way that doesn't inundate them with an overwhelming amount of content. Features like the "Explore" and "Popular on Zite" sections help keep the thousands of options manageable and relevant, he says.

"You want to reveal content smartly and exactly when they want it," Johnson says.

In other words, just because you have a powerful discovery engine doesn't mean you need to give it all away up front. Most likely all that will do is scare off potential users.

Zite's also gotten a nice facelift, after finally shelling out for a designer responsible for changing the entire look and feel of the app. Now, it offers features such as different page layouts to give content more personality, like a real magazine, and a new "curious owl" logo.

"We like to say it has beauty and brains," Johnson says.

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Leuthard]

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  • Neil

    The "nice" new facelift isn't nice at all. It's quite poor. I seriously question a designer who takes something that looks and works in such a unique way and ruins it. It seems I'm not the only one as the App Store reviews are awful for this new version. It won't matter much that there are more topics to discover if the app is too banal and painful to use now.

  • The new CEO

    Look at your app reviews, you were and are wrong. Bad move as Zites appeal goes down the drain. Losing another!

  • pevensen

    They should fire that designer!  The iPad version is a train wreck.

    The new screen is way to busy.  It is much harder to separate the stories.
    You can turn pages smoothly.  If you don't swipe strictly horizontally, a panel goes up or down (to give a thumbs up or down) and prevents the page from turning.
    They inject unwanted content that you can't turn off, like Headline News and Features on Zite.
    Even worse, some of these are auto-updating tiles, which are very distracting.

    They took a great app and ruined it.  I downgraded to the previous version.