Over the holidays, I saw my parents. Typically, our conversations go towards computers and the internet because they know I know about those things and they really do not know many other people who do. This time was different, because the context of the conversation was regarding newspapers. Their main complaint was that if newspapers died or went purely online, where would they get their news? They did not want to read their news on a computer because they sat in front of a computer all day for work. To give you an idea of why this conversation was happening, my parents are in their late 60s and do not work in high tech jobs.

I started to ask what would get them to use a computer for news, but that conversation ended before it started. Once I mentioned the idea, the typical complaints arouse. “I like the feel of a newspaper”, “Where would I get coupons” and others of a similar nature. They were fighting change because it is too big of a change for them. For the longest time, computers were solely used within the domain of work. They did not grow up with computers, and their jobs did not use computers until the middle of the 1990s. I ended the conversation more abruptly than they wanted with a simple comment. “You are not the target audience of the future.” They did not like the idea, but they understood what I was saying. However, the conversation got me thinking about newspapers and online news again.

I talked about newspapers and RSS for the mainstream a little over two months ago, but that was in the context of newspapers doing the right things compared to some of the personalized homepages. Newspapers are doing a good job of getting their information on the internet and in a very readable format. However, most people want news from various sources. Yahoo may be one of the leading news sites, but if you are using the Yahoo News page, you are not getting any aggregation except for some wire sources. You could use a service like My Yahoo, but most people do not want to do that much work. I stopped using My Yahoo, mainly because an RSS reader is much more efficient for me. Most mainstream users will not take that approach, so recommending an RSS reader like Google Reader is just not a good idea.

Another option is something like Alltop. I have tried to get my wife to use Alltop, mainly to see if this would be a good starting point for mainstream users. She does like the way the topics are segmented, and she will use it if she is looking for information in a particular topic. However, the “online magazine rack” concept does not give her the ease of finding news like Yahoo News does.

Currently, there are a limited number of ways to get news from varied sources. The three main news aggregator services seem to be Topix.net, Newsvine.com and Daylife.com. Each of these sites gets a good amount of unique visitors per month (Topix – 5M, Newsvine and Daylife – 1M) as you can see from the Compete.com graph below:

As you can see, this is not mainstream adoption. Yahoo News is mainstream and currently has 31M unique visitors per month. One interesting thing to note is that Topix only grew 12% last year, while Yahoo News grew more than 36% in the same span. Newsvine and Daylife both grew well at 145% and 383% respectively. However, they have much smaller traffic at this point. The main problem with each of these sites is that they are generally ugly. Topix almost has more advertisements on their front page than content and the ads are interspersed within the content, so be careful where you click. Newsvine is definitely a site created by technologists. It is geared towards activity in the form of votes and comments. It almost has the same feel as a social news site, but in a newspaper themed layout. Daylife is nicer than the other two and it presents related articles, related topics and photos in a tabbed interface below the main article. The main problem with Daylife is that the front page is fairly dull. Contrast this criticism with the Yahoo News front page:

Yahoo News front page

Yahoo News front page

It is a little busy, but it is has a traditional newspaper or magazine layout. The most popular stories are on the far right side so that they do not overpower the content. There is also minimal advertising on the page. I would not say that Yahoo News is a clear winner, but they are definitely leading the other three news aggregators from the perspective of the user interface. The big problem with Yahoo is the limited content sources.

So, what is the mainstream going to use? My wife uses Yahoo News but has no desire to customize the content. She assumes that Yahoo is just taking information from leading sources, even though it is really only taking information from the leading wire services. The problem is that she does not care, and I suspect the typical mainstream user does not care either. The other thing I have noticed is that these people do not really care about blogs unless they are mentioned by Yahoo, CNN, MSNBC, etc.

The people who care about getting information from other sources like blogs are typically people who are writing them or other early adopters. We are all looking for the best and easiest way to read RSS feeds. RSS readers are very efficient, but definitely not as user friendly as something like Yahoo News. The flip side of this is that early adopters and bloggers want the content that Yahoo News does not offer. Maybe the mainstream is taken care of. Maybe we just need a better RSS reader.