AOL's Editions wants to bring you the Web -- from AOL's universe [Updated]
AOL is getting into the Flipboard/Pulse/Zite business -- that is, it's built an app that turns Web pages you select into a more comprehensible magazine format. It works on Apple's iPad and other tablets, and it's called Editions.
AOL is employing algorithms in Editions that decide where to place stories inside the app by what it deems as important to each specific reader, essentially building a magazine of stories each day from online news sources.
Using what a reader self-identifies as their interests, as well as outside trends such as what is rising to the top of the froth on Twitter that day, stories will appear toward the front of the app's digital magazine, or rear, and be given more, or less, page real estate.
The idea is to sort of re-create the work done by editors and designers at newspapers and magazines, who lay out a publication and place stories to communicate to the reader what's most important in any given printed issue. It's just that Editions is using software to do this, not human editors.
Each Editions reader will get a 30-to-40-page magazine every morning, AOL says, tailored to the interests he or she has identified. There are 15 categories -- "sports," "business," etc., plus a daily top-news category -- but "books" is not among them. There's a category for "art & photography," one for "design," and one for "lifestyle" -- which warns it may have racy content -- but no books content to speak of. Unless you count the entertainment story about the movie adaptation of Milton's "Paradise Lost" that's got Bradley Cooper lined up to play the devil.
The real issue is that Editions is not scraping the Web but using AOL's Web content. That makes sense from a corporate perspective -- it's an AOL operation, after all. The onetime Internet giant has struggled to find a place in the contemporary online world, at one time making content king. But a read through Editions shows just how much wider and richer the Web is than the version of it that AOL can provide. Do I really need a Patch writer from Pacific Palisades writing about taking a trip all the way to downtown Los Angeles to go to MOCA and have lunch, when I work downtown and know not to refer to the museum as "MOMA"? I'd rather get updates from my favorite neighborhood blog, Eastsider LA -- but I can't in Editions, because it's not part of AOL.
The stories seem to somehow lack the basics, failing to deliver either authority or voice. That's despite the acquisition of the Huffington Post, which seems to mostly be providing access to Associated Press stories.
The magazine-style -- or, dare I say it, newspaper-style -- morning delivery of daily news seems like a good idea, but until AOL remembers that it doesn't have to keep users within its own subset of the internet, Editions will have a hard time keeping pace.
Downloading the Editions app is free.
[Updated 11 a.m., Aug. 5: AOL says that Editions' content is not limited to AOL-affiliated sources, saying that its stories come "from thousands of news sources," and that additional sources of content are being added to the app.]
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Images: Screenshots of Editions by AOL for Apple's iPad. Credit: AOL / Apple