My6Sense puts smart RSS reading in your pocket

New mobile RSS reader My6Sense watches what you read, then offers up recommendations and rankings on other reading choices.

Editor's note: This post was amended to reflect a later release date for this app. My6Sense for the iPhone was originally expected to be on the app store Thursday morning, although it remains in Apple's approval process. For the purpose of this review I was using the same version which was installed using a testing provision.

My6Sense, a company that previewed its RSS recommendation technology at the Under the Radar Mobility conference back in late November , is finally ready to get its tools into the hands of users. The company soon plans to release its first native application for mobile phones (currently for the iPhone only), which pulls in RSS feeds and adjusts what it presents based on your reading habits.

To make those adjustments, the product revolves around a machine learning algorithm called "digital intuition." As you read, it slowly builds a profile for recommendations on other items you should check out, and ranks them accordingly.

There are six levels of digital intuition in all. Any time you check for recommendations it updates a small bar that tells you how far along its cold, robot brain is to knowing your deepest reading desires. In the hour or two I spent with the app, I nearly got to level three. Apparently it takes much more browsing than I was willing to give it before it could offer expert recommendations. Nonetheless, after just that short amount of time it was doing a pretty good job pointing me toward articles I did, in fact, want to read.

Feeding frenzy
Finding feeds to begin with is quite easy. You can enter URLs manually, download packs of RSS links that have been curated by My6Sense, or import the news feed from places like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and Flickr. It's also got a tool for grabbing your feed collection from other RSS services like Google Reader, My Yahoo, NewsGator, and Netvibes. I just used my feed collection from Google Reader, which was as simple as plugging in the credentials for my Google account. My6Sense was even nice enough to keep all my folders and meticulous feed organization intact.


Now the real heart of the app is feed reading. My6Sense wants you to give up using any other readers, and do everything inside of its app, since that's what makes its recommendation engine tick. This would be fine, except for the fact that the app can get intolerably slow when it comes to loading headlines.

Over a healthy 3G connection it took around 12 seconds to load up a list of just 10 stories. It took even longer to pull in an additional 10 results. And this was just the text--images don't load until you open up a story to read. In comparison, Google Reader in Safari is not that much faster, but it's something to keep in mind if you're planning to use this somewhere with a lackluster mobile connection.

Despite its slowness, one nice feature is that once a feed has loaded, it's cached for the next time you visit that category. This includes all of the stories within that particular feed, so you can browse even with limited connectivity.


Verdict

As a pure feed reader, My6Sense is great for beginners. It's really easy to add new feeds and get going, even if you've never used another feed reader before. But it can be (and usually is) slow--almost to a fault. If this is your first mobile feed-reading experience after using a peppy desktop RSS reader, you're bound to be disappointed.

The inclusion of the recommendation engine is a nice touch for individual articles, although I would like to see it be expanded to cover feeds as well. Maybe offering something that pops up and says "hey, I notice you really like reading about cameras--you might like this."

The good:
• App learns your tastes, and shows how well it knows you
• Easy to share articles you're reading without leaving the app
• Sucks in feeds from feed readers you're already using
• Fast set-up with packs of feeds by genre
• Capability to unread things you don't want to impact the recommendation engine
• Built-in browser for reading outbound links

The bad:
• Feeds can be slow to load
• No downloading option to read feeds offline
• Portrait mode only
• Photos and inline videos can sometimes be lost in translation
• No toggles to change text size or page contrast

 

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