We look at how to use your phone or tablet to discover new things to read, and then read them on the go, even when you're out of coverage.
One of the biggest tensions on the Internet in recent years has been between push and pull. Push is when information is delivered to you, for example a mailing list where you are emailed copies of all new postings. Pull is where you must actively go to a website to get information, for instance visiting a message board or news site.
Pull is generally what publishers prefer, not only so they can feed you rich and colourful adverts when you visit, but also because they can measure how many people visit the page and how long they stay there, and see who clicks on which adverts or other links – the latter information is crucial to their advertising revenues. For us readers though, push has a lot of advantages. It puts the information right in front of us, with no need to open a dozen different websites in the hope that the stories we want are there on the home-page.
Of course, you could simply sign up for emailed alerts from your chosen sites – or you could use a RSS. Standing either for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, RSS was developed specifically so you do not have to make a deliberate act of checking a website for new content. Instead, your browser constantly monitors the site for you, informing you of any updates. You can also configure the browser to automatically download the new content it finds.
Most if not all desktop browsers now include RSS capability, and most dynamic websites offer an RSS feed. News websites will usually offer several, for different themes or topics, say. There are also plenty of useful browser add-ons to make it easier to see and manage your RSS feeds. An example is Feed Sidebar for Firefox – you move your subscribed feeds into a bookmark folder called Feeds, and it adds a sidebar which you can set up to regularly check for and then list all the new items.
Things are not quite so simple on a mobile device though, and here you will want an RSS reader – a specialist app that monitors your chosen feeds on a specified schedule, downloading the new content it finds and presenting it to you in a mobile-friendly and easy to read format. One of the best of these is Feedly, which not only makes it easy to read on the go, it also provides a long list of suggested sites in different areas of interest. You can add feeds on your mobile device – there are native Feedly apps for Android and Apple tablets and phones, but the service also works with a long list of other reader apps, on almost any mobile platform you could name – or in your desktop browser, where of course visibility is rather better.
The one caveat with the Feedly apps is that they require an Internet connection to download your articles. However, you can also link Feedly to accounts with Instapaper and Pocket, allowing stories to be downloaded over Wi-Fi for offline reading. In any case, the RSS versions of articles are relatively lightweight, so they should not make a huge dent in your mobile data allowance.
Whether you read it online or offline, finding interesting and well-written new content can be a challenge. One solution is a social news aggregation service such as Digg. This does not originate content, instead relying on its users to recommend stories that they find on the web, and then 'digg' (like) them on the service to push them up the rankings. You can also share stories to your social networks or via messaging.
If it was just a list of the stories most liked by Digg users, there would be little to recommend such an introverted idea. Fortunately there is rather more to it than that: Digg's editors add catchlines and they tag stories for themes too, and its base of users is broad and varied, although admittedly with a bias towards geekier content. The result is a crowd-curated and professionally-edited cluster of newsfeeds covering a wide range of subjects.
You can read these either through Digg's own apps for Android and Apple, as RSS feeds within the Digg app or another RSS reader, or save individual stories for later via an offline reader such as Readability, Pocket or Instapaper. Oddly, while the iPhone app lets you drill through to the individual Digg tags or themes – such as Animals, Health or Style – and see a list of only those stories, the Android one does not (yet).
Either way, the result is an engrossing mixture of content, just right for filling some idle time or surveying the latest news in an area of interest.
When it comes to finding good new reading material, Mashable is both similar yet a very different proposition. For a start it writes its own stories, and even if many of them reference (and rewrite) stories from elsewhere and are in effect just extended referrals, they are at least curated referrals. Usefully, it provides multiple views into its news-stream, both in its Android and Apple mobile apps and on the web, so you can choose to see only Tech or Entertainment stories for instance.
The site also knows which stories are newest and it can measure how fast they are being shared and recommended on social networks, so in each case you can see what is currently trending as well as what has been popular in the longer term. The focus is therefore less on discovering new sources and more on the curation undertaken by Mashable's editors.
There are a few oddities. Most notably, the web version uses geolocation to offer UK and Australian editions of the listings, but the apps are stuck with just the default US edition. And there is little coverage of technical (as opposed to consumer-tech) news, but then that's what sources such as E&T are for. Mashable is particularly good is if you want to keep up with web culture and Generation Mobile. It does cover general news, but you will need the web version to dig a bit deeper into its network of subtopics for this.