Surveys say that people download apps on their phones, try them out and very rarely go back to them and move on to the next shiny thing. This paradox of plenty has come to the app-economy and is basically making second chances virtually impossible. And that’s why when some app manages to breakthrough and become part of your daily habits, you can feel why it is different.
About two months ago, I downloaded an app that has become part of my daily life and in fact has earned a place on the first screen of my iPhone. It is not the prettiest app. It doesn’t have the sexiest swipes. Its colors are monastery chic. Instead, it is simply useful. It is called Nuzzel, a social reader that leaves out complexity and makes reading things people share on the social Internet easier and smarter.
It is one of the many new services that have popped up (or will come to fore) as we all struggle with “too much” content on social sharing platforms. Think of these as mods on top of existing social networks — they are needed to scratch every itch, though their commercial prospects remained to be ascertained. (Instagram lovers should check out Chicago-based developer Nicholas Eby’s Dscvry app for iOS, which doesn’t seem to have any reviews.) Smarter algorithms, better design or just plain simple uncomplicated human-powered social discovery — we need it all.
A long time ago, there existed a similar service (for the web) called TuneIn that was co-founded by Jim Lanzone and Adam Hertz (and was backed by True Ventures.) That service came into the world too early — Twitter was still trying to get its game on. Facebook was still trying to push super pokes and dumb poker games. But as like in love and life, when it comes to the Internet, timing is everything.
Nuzzel is the brainchild of Jonathan Abrams, who carries the cross of being the guy who started Friendster and then blew the opportunity. Never mind, Silicon Valley loves second chances. This is Abrams’ next turn at the Rodeo and he has nailed it. To be clear, this isn’t rocket science. This app isn’t going to improve human condition. There isn’t that much whiz-bang-boom going on here. And that is why it works.
It is uncomplicated, it is simple and did I say, it is useful. Damn useful, to be precise. In the recent past, there have been many apps that have tried to become my default mobile reading experience and failed to keep me interested over the long term. Some of them like Flipboard are beautiful. Some of them like Prismatic are quite intelligent. But most of they are trying to do too much — not surprising since they were started for different reasons.
Nuzzel is doing one thing and one thing only — giving me a quick and easy way to surface the stories that are being shared by my social networks. The stories that are most popular with my network quickly rise to the top, and I can sort them based on time elapsed — two hours, four hours or eight hours. There is option to find the latest, most recent stories that are popular with my peeps. And then there is the best option — what friends of friends are reading. It is like Techmeme and Twitter had a baby.
Nuzzel, in many ways allows me to derive maximum value from my Twitter graph, minus the noisy chatter. Ever since I came back from a short vacation from the Internet, I have removed Twitter and Facebook from my phone. I prefer to use them on the web — mostly in Incognito-mode — and limiting myself to accessing them twice a day, mostly for social interactions. I have stopped using Facebook for promoting stories, but instead I use it for forming a community.
Twitter, on the other hand is still important as a news source — I mean all journalists are on Twitter and often share their links. However, I didn’t want to miss out on all the good stuff being shared on Twitter — and Nuzzel is just a great way to surface the best (and sometimes obscure stories.) It allows me to share the links on Twitter or Facebook or simply email them. I can save them to Pocket or add them to my Safari reading list.
Given Twitter’s checkered past when it comes to API access and third party developers, I wonder if Twitter is going to pull the plug on Nuzzel. It would be foolish to do so — mostly because it is one app that shows that a controlled approach to an ecosystem would allow Twitter to overcome its growth and engagement challenges.
Let me explain — Nuzzel has done one thing which Twitter has failed to do since I joined the service back in the iceages. The more I used Nuzzel, the more I realize that my social network was pretty unidimensional and thus everything was about startups, crushing-it, venture capitalists, Uber and well, you get the drift. What did I do? I ended up following folks from different walks of life — designers, fashion people, academics, foreign correspondents (Tom Friedman not qualifies), film stars, baseball players and god knows — anyone who seemed interesting. The only criteria I had was — they had to be interesting, shared fun photos, were not dark and brooding and most importantly, shared a lot of articles on their feeds.
I simply added them to my Nuzzel list and two weeks later, I found I was reading more interesting stories. It has made Twitter even more useful. I am re-tweeting more often, I am favoriting more things and I am simply reading more. Just on Nuzzel!
Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to dislike in Nuzzel. The website is noisy and needs more Botox than an aging Hollywood star. I hate the “featured” list, mostly because it detracts from the essence of Nuzzel as a “social reader.” I wish someone with better understanding of typography can give them a helping hand — for right now it is not quite up to the snuff. The design could use a facelift and the app could lose some features.
Nuzzel, when spelled right (nuzzle) means “rub or push against gently with the nose and mouth.” It has done exactly that. Despite all the negatives, I simply love this app. It has been a long time since I have felt that way about an app. It is free. It is simple and most importantly, it has made my life just better.