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I don't understand the positive reviews this site is getting.

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 15:   Employees wait outs...

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Washington Post’s recently released aggregator site Trove brings little to the table, both in terms of content and function.

So I’ve now had three days of Trove and I’m not sure why it has got such glowing reviews. The site’s home page illustrates an old-media approach to new-media content and brings along the various troubles of WaPo’s home page to this different platform. Ignoring font choices, the front page on my screen is an ugly and fairly useless mess.

I guess I should explain what I want from a service like Trove.

I want a site that finds me content that I haven’t or couldn’t find without it.

Trove’s front page is a showcase of the mediocre when it comes to selection of content. I don’t need a site to select headlines from the New York Times, The Atlantic, BBC or Variety. That’s half the reason I use Twitter. The people I follow and the internet in general curates mainstream content like that for me. That’s the point. I don’t need another site to do what everyone else already does.

Instead, Trove presents me with lists of articles, 90% of which contain information I already know, don’t care about or have already read. Not only that, but the articles listed on my front page range lack any sort of real timeliness. In the channels, some articles are over a week old. In three days of use, I’ve only discovered three articles on the service’s front page worth clicking through. Channels usually only have one useful article themselves.

I guess Trove wants to be a one-stop-shop for people to get all their news, but I don’t think such a thing can or should exist anymore.

If you do curate content that I could find everywhere else, you better add something to it or provide social proof.

If you are curating content and using real people to do it, I’d really like to see some sort of value-add from the curator. The only thing that is apparently being curated by a human are the Editor’s picks, which apparently have no connection with the actual topics I’m interested in. Not only that, but the single thing of value the editor adds is a summary of the article.

Now if you are going to feed me NYT and BBC articles, the least you could do is show me some sort of social proof that tells me that either people haven’t read this yet (and is therefore valuable for me to share) or that so many people have that I need to read it myself. Yet there is no notice of tweets, comments, Facebook shares, or any other sort of social proof, even from within the Trove system itself. Nor are there the keys I’d need to share what I’m interested in socially with other users or other services. If you are going to show me things that I (and anyone else with two eyes and a broadband connection) have already read, then you had better let me share it from your site, otherwise what’s the point?

I need a point of view.

Hard news and even most soft news topics seem to completely lack links to articles that take a stance or, at the very least, provide news commentary beyond the boring just-the-facts reporting that’s killing journalism. The curated articles that appear on my front page are nearly useless for learning anything about a topic. It’s a little better on the individual channels.

I want to learn something.

While timeliness is important, it is not the be all and end all of this type of platform. There is another side of things, finding the type of articles that illuminate and expand a topic. The point of all the reading I do online isn’t just to keep up on the latest news, it’s to expand my knowledge and learn. The tuned channels, editors’ picks and front page present me with nothing that expands my knowledge of a topic.

My aggregator service should know me.

Despite Trove’s much trumpeted Facebook integration, all that its search of my topics of interest and recent posts proved is that it has no ability to distinguish Facebook interactions from things I’m interested in news about. Trove automatically included four different channels having to do with The Beatles. Presumably because I list them as one of my favorite bands? Except there could not possibly be any news about The Beatles that I’m interested in. Especially not enough to fill four channels.

Its channel finder, which encourages me to pick one out of two choices for a channel topic recommended presumably from Facebook, rarely presents me with any topics of interest.

Trove succeeds in one way in this regard. The site’s functionality assures me that no marketer will ever get any truly useful or accurate information from my Facebook page.

You can (maybe?) focus Trove by using the Save this Article or Ignore buttons, but they are minuscule.

My niche interests have the highest value in any aggregator.

The greatest value I gain from any aggregation or curation system is in its ability to bring me important information, breaking news and important thoughts and commentary on the niche topics I’m interested in. This is the one place where timeliness matters least. Of course, channels dealing with niche topics, inevitably ‘tuned by me,’ lack interesting content or, sometimes, any content.  Just off my last week’s Twitter feed alone, I could easily fill a page on narrative design or transmedia. The first has three articles, the second is mostly boring, or stuff I’ve read already.

Weirdly, Trove’s page on George Mason Patriots (the name for every one of my University’s sports teams) is pretty decent and tuned by Trove’s editors. So I’ll put that one in the win column for them.

Then the Video Games channel, though tuned, is horribly useless, including a Portal 2 review from the Colorado Daily above the fold. What?

Personalization across all of my services.

Not just Facebook.

When I hit the front page of my aggregator, everything I want to know about what I care about should be there.

It just isn’t. Instead there is a set of articles that are fluff. It is either stuff that doesn’t interest me, doesn’t tell me anything new, or just distracts me with useless content.

The design.

I’m all for pretty fonts, but a website is more than that. Let me just go down the list.

  • Huge useless Channel Finder taking up a lot of above the fold space. (Found out you could close it using a tiny non-intuitively placed close link.)
  • Tiny curation buttons (the previously mentioned Save and Ignore).
  • Minuscule sub-titles. These are hard to click and almost so small to make longer ones difficult to read.
  • Time information is light gray text on a white background. I guess they don’t think we care about this so they make it hard to read? This is especially bad with the small titles.
  • Zero video. What the hell? Is this the 90s? Is this the Drudge Report? I don’t know how you could build a site like this and completely forget to include video.
  • Broken elements. I know, it’s the first week. Still, how do you release a site where the footer scroll function (Your channels) doesn’t work?
  • Stand-alone article titles. It looks ugly. They have bullet points that just look odd. Oh and the titles lack context standing on their own. At least give me the first sentence here. 160 characters. Is that really too much to ask?

Channels pages are better, but lack visuals, images, videos, etc…

I don’t know what the conversations page is, but it doesn’t have anything on there or explain the feature.

Don’t spam me.

The daily email is just pointless. The last thing I need is an aggregator sending me emails like Trove’s stuffing up my inbox. The minimal content in the newsletters is just completely useless. Also they’re an opt-out feature which is almost enough to make me condone the site on principle.

Conclusion: Trove offers little to make it a competitor.

I just can’t figure out what Trove brings to the table in this already crowded field. There is nothing on display that makes it competitive with far more excellent applications like Feedly, My6Sense, NewsTrustNewsMix or FlipBook. The content provided is far outstripped by other apps and sites or even email newsletters like SmartBrief.

Let’s face facts, as much as we’d like WaPo to succeed with something like this, Newser does mostly the same thing in a much more effective and visually appealing manner.

I could agree with the argument that Trove isn’t a terrible site. However, it doesn’t really offer anything that would make it useful to me or any other web-native.

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