Accidentally, I have created a series of posts based on the pending content war article I had written. So I have already posted my review of personalized homepage services, and a short post regarding a review of the lifestreaming services. Now that Alltop has been launched I can complete the series with a comparison of the news aggregation services. To start, there seem to be three major players in this niche, Popurls, OriginalSignal and Alltop. For some reason, OriginalSignal has not generated the kind of hype that both Popurls and Alltop have received. I think it may just be that the amount of coverage that the others get make it look insignificant. In any case, let us look at what each service provides.

Popurls

Popurls is the current king of the hill. The basic idea is that the popurls team has selected the most popular destinations on the internet and listed their most current articles. It can be best explained by a single quote from their “About” page:

A single page that encapsulates up-to-the-minute headlines from the most popular sites on the internet.

At this point there is nothing else that you can really do at popurls, but that is the point. It does something, it does it very well, and it does it in a simple way. There is some customization available like hiding the media feeds, essentially get rid of the videos, and changing the order of the feeds. If much more customization were possible, then it would almost be closer to a personalized homepage like Netvibes. I am not sure what the sweet spot would be for customization for a site like popurls, and maybe what they have done is appropriate for the type of site that they are. I do find it interesting that you need an OpenID in order to login and customize the site. I have not seen any other sites use only OpenID and not their own authentication process.

Alltop

Alltop has been getting mixed reviews from ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch. I do not think that the TechCrunch coverage is very fair given the “big pile of nothing” comment. The site is not a really cool way to do something, it just stuck to the basics. The categories lend themselves well to browsing for news, and the depth of the categories is impressive. The minimalist design also works very well, as it ensures that the user focuses on finding stories as opposed to how pretty the site is. One minor issue I have is the permanent semi-transparent overlay that has some administrative links on it. I do feel that this takes away from the experience a little. I think it would be better suited as the footer of the page itself, but that is just my opinion. Two potentially major drawbacks are search and personalization. Personalization can be ignored as it is a new site, and as I said before, it starts getting into Netvibes territory. Search should be a component of any major news or information site. If you have a blog, then search may not be that important, but for a site containing this much information search his critical.

OriginalSignal

OriginalSignal is very similar to Alltop without nearly as many categories. One benefit they do have is a logical menu structure for the categories instead of one large list like Alltop. For example, if you wanted SEO (Search Engine Optimization) feeds, you go to the main “Web” menu and select the “SEO” submenu. This results in a very logical and traditional navigation model. One minor issue with the menu is that it is very sensitive to the cursor location, and if you don’t have a steady hand you may not get the category you were aiming for. Another difference between this site and Alltop is the number of sites listed. OriginalSignal looks to be trying to keep it to the known authority sites. Alltop seems to be gathering a much bigger list of sites within their categories.

Overall Impression

If you are just looking for sites that give you the hottest news now, then news aggregators are for you. Sometimes they are also useful for the RSS addict because they might present a new feed that they have not seen before. I am not a big fan of popurls as I do not frequent the major sites, as I target social media for things of that nature. OriginalSignal is interesting, but the blog has not been updated in almost a year. So, I am not sure if it is being actively maintained. Alltop is very similar to OriginalSignal but has many more categories and feeds. This automatically gives it more utility. The structure of Alltop works well for me as navigating a category and looking at the various feeds feels logical. If Alltop gets some level of personalization, it could become the standard for news aggregators. At this point, I feel that Alltop is the winner mostly due to the category structure and the minimalist design.