The best Zite replacement is …

It’s been almost a month since my favorite smartphone app, bar none — the news discovery and reading engine Zite — shut down. Despite a pledge from its acquiring parent company, Flipboard, to integrate the best features of Zite into its flagship Flipboard app, Flipboard never delivered an option for mirroring Zite’s simple, scrolling, one-great-story-after-another interface.

It ignored my Change.org petition to save Zite.

Nuzzel’s main reading panel

Instead, Flipboard continues to demand users tolerate what one Zite mourner describes as “flipping flipping” and another derides as “all the inconvenience of a real magazine, right in your pocket.”

Over the last five years, since reading Katherine Boehret’s Wall Street Journal review describing Zite as “a smarter way to handle information overload,” I’ve used its newsgathering intelligence to help power story selection and assignments for at least five news organizations, two college journalism classes, two blogs and a business email newsletter.

Zite further served as inspiration for Rivet, the radio news startup I helped launch in 2013. I used it multiple times a day — 24/7/365, as they say — to come up with stories worth pursuing.

So I’ve spent the last few weeks auditioning replacements for Zite’s uncanny ability to mine the social Web for irresistibly engaging, continuously updated content.

The winner is …

Nuzzel, which bills itself as “news from friends and influencers.”

It’s not a perfect Zite replacement out of the (free download) box. It tends to surface more broken or repetitive links than Zite did, and its reading interface is more cluttered.

But it delivers a wide variety of news from unexpected sources and it eases sharing — to Facebook, Twitter, Instapaper, my Kindle and my professional comrades — with an icon accompanying each story in the main reading panel (pictured).

Nuzzel’s setting’s panel

And a few tweaks to Nuzzel’s settings (tap the upper lefthand corner “Settings” icon and then scroll almost all the way down) can make it a close substitute for Zite:

  • Authorize Nuzzel to access your Twitter and Facebook accounts (of course) so it can find the stories friends and those you follow are sharing. This experience will get richer if you have a well-curated list of sharing-type connections in your social media circles.
  • Select Text Size = 0 (for maximum information density on the home screen).
  • TheAlert you when shared by 5 friends” option keeps that stream of notices manageable. Depending on how many Twitter and Facebook friends you have, your mileage may vary. (As of this writing, I’m following about 2,300 accounts on Twitter; I have about 2,700 friends on Facebook.)

The effect of Nuzzel’s “Sort by” options, including “# of friends” and “Most recent,” isn’t as clear as it could be. Their impact on your news feed isn’t intuitive.

Nuzzel’s “Sort by” panel

But, after experimenting over the last few weeks, I’ve found these settings most closely duplicate the feel of Zite:

  • Sort by “# of friends.”
  • Select “Last hour.”

Again: Depending on whom (and how many) you’re following, your mileage may differ.

When I suggested Nuzzel create its own guide for Zite survivors, CEO Jonathan Abrams — also founder of Friendster — declined, explaining in an email that Nuzzel “was never intended to be similar to apps such as Zite.”

And yet, it’s managed the closest approximation so far.

If you’re still in mourning over the loss of Zite, give Nuzzel a spin.

— — —

For the record, some of the other promising social news readers I’ve tried, with reasons they failed to make first place.

  • Apple News. Predictable — even boring — selection of stories and sources.
  • Feedly. Solid presentation, but only from sources I’ve already identified. Where’s the element of surprise?
  • News360. Once the app most likely to take Zite’s place on my homescreen, News360 blew its chances by abandoning scrolling and adopting a more Flipboardy interface.
  • Pipes. Much to like, but bewildering interface, not enough customization options.
  • Pure News. No customization.

If you have more suggestions for tweaking Nuzzel — or any other app — to fill the Zite-sized hole in one’s life, please share below.

You can download Nuzzel here for the iPhone, and here for Android.