Personalized Magazine App Zite Refines Its New Design, Backtracks From Some Recent Changes

Zite, the CNN-owned iPhone and and iPad app offering aggregated content that’s personalized to your interests, launched a big revamp back in December. In some ways, Zite 2.0 was a success — for one thing, article views per user per day went up 11 percent. On the other hand, co-founder/CTO Mike Klaas and Senior Software Architect Emuye Reynolds told me that there was definitely some pushback from the app’s fans, and in fact Zite’s star rating in the Apple App Store has dropped.

“Anytime you change anything, people are going to be upset,” Klaas said. “But I think we underestimated the amount of people who would feel that way.”

That’s why Zite is releasing version 2.1, which mixes old and new features in an attempt to take the user criticism into account. To be clear: This still looks like Zite 2.0, so people who were hoping to a return to the old navigation system are out of luck.

But there is one immediately noticeable change — Zite has gotten rid of the cute owl logo that it introduced with the redesign, and it has gone back to a more subdued, text-based logo (while incorporating touches of the new color scheme). Apparently, users really, really didn’t like the owl, and some even said they had to hide the app because they thought it was so ugly.

I was a bit surprised by this, because I like the owl (I like the redesign too). I asked if that says something about the Zite user base (which is a polite way of asking whether they’re old and stodgy), and while Klaas acknowledged that’s probably a factor, Reynolds added, “More than not matching our users, it didn’t match our product.”

Another complaint from users was the disappearance of the ability to swipe left and right to browse different topics. Klaas said the redesign introduced another way to browse different sections (namely Topic Tags, which now account for 13 percent of section views), but overall the amount of sections browsed by the average user has gone down. At this point, the discussion got a little arcane, as Klaas and Reynolds explained how they tried to reintroduce the feature in a subtle way that didn’t interfere too much with the new design, but the point is, users can swipe left again and they’ll be taken to a new topic.

A third issue: When you switched to the web view of an article, the redesigned Zite app would wait until it was fully loaded to show you the page, which made users feel like they had to wait longer. And that, too, has been tweaked, so that articles appear more quickly, even if they’re not fully loaded.

Oh, and the company re-added LinkedIn and Google+ sharing buttons, if you’re into that kind of thing.

zite history

There are some wholly new features in Zite 2.1 as well. Perhaps the most important is a History feature, which lets you see reverse chronological of every article you read in Zite — so if you’re thinking, “Gosh, what was that really interesting TechCrunch post I read yesterday?” you can easily look it up again. The text, spacing, and coloring have been improved, a change that will probably be invisible to many users, but when I looked the two apps side by side, 2.1 is significantly easier on the eyes.

Looking back, Klaas admitted that Zite may have been a little too aggressive with its redesign. After all, it makes sense that existing users would like the old features (that’s why they were using the app, after all), even if Klaas and his teammates think they can do better. He described his approach to 2.1, and to future changes, as being open to feedback as long it’s compatible with the company’s vision, and not “asking for a different product” altogether.

You can read more about Zite 2.1 here and download it here.