Vu is a new iOS app from the developer of the same name. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, and carries no additional in-app purchases.
Since Google announced that it would be closing down its Google Reader service on July 1, there has been a sudden surge in interest of apps and services that allow users to follow and consume Web-based content in an organized manner — preferably while maintaining the high level of customization that Google Reader offered. While dedicated RSS readers other than Google Reader seem to have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years, particularly among younger users, an area that has seen strong growth recently is that of news apps that “learn” from the reader’s tastes and allow them to fine-tune the content that is automatically served up to them. Just recently, we’ve seen the former “social browser” Rockmelt completely reinvent itself as such a platform, and there are numerous other examples, such as the popular “magazine-style” app Flipboard, that have been around for a while now. Vu is coming into an increasingly crowded market, then, but it attempts to distinguish itself from its rivals in a few ways.
Upon starting Vu for the first time, users may immediately begin browsing content, but in order to get the most out of the app they’ll need an account, as this allows them to “react” to stories and help the service learn about their tastes. Once that is taken care of, the user is taken to the main menu screen, which is arranged in a “card catalog” style a little like Evernote’s most recent updates. The available tabs include “Recommended Reading,” which includes stories selected by the Vu team; “Trending on Vu,” which shows stories that are proving of interest to the community, and “My Topics,” which allows users to browse content in a variety of broad topic areas. These topics are not very specific and do not appear to be customizable or removable — though the user may alter the order in which they appear by dragging them up and down in the list.
The real meat of Vu comes when starting to view specific articles, however. When reading an article, it is presented in an attractive “reader” view rather than simply pulled from the original site. For the most part, this looks great, but occasionally some rogue HTML code creeps in — particularly when videos are embedded in the original story — which spoils the effect somewhat. Users may optionally switch to the original page if they wish.
At the bottom of each article is a series of “tags” based on what the story is about. For any of these tags, the user may tap on them and indicate whether they “like” or “dislike” the topic in question — Vu will then use this information to provide the user with either more or fewer stories on that particular subject in the future. There is also an overall “like” or “dislike” option at the end of the story, which again helps inform Vu of the reader’s tastes.
As well as reacting to the story’s topics and themes, Vu features a Rockmelt-style “reaction” option, whereby users may pick one of six predefined reactions (“Cool,” “Whoa,” “Nice,” “LOL,” “Sweet,” or “Yikes,” — very few of which feel entirely appropriate while the app’s feeds are full of information about the Boston Marathon attacks at the time of writing) and share said reaction on Twitter and/or Facebook; mark the story as a favorite; or share it via email, SMS/iMessage, Twitter or Facebook. A link to the story can also be copied and shared via other apps or services if desired. The user may set the app up to automatically share all their reactions to Twitter and/or Facebook if they desire; otherwise, they will be prompted to share every time they choose one of the “reaction” options.
Vu is a good-looking app that seems to pull content from a decent selection of sources, but it’s just a little too opaque about what it’s actually doing to be truly useful to power users. It doesn’t appear to be possible to take a lot of control over the sources from which content is drawn, with the only real agency the user is given being the opportunity to like or dislike various topics. There’s no means of completely customizing the list of topics or the source list, only the gradual “teaching” process, which takes time to bear fruit. This sort of curated content will be fine for some users, but those who prefer to take more control over their news reading may find themselves better off with something like Feedly or Rockmelt.
You can follow Vu’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.