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Zite ran into a roadblock just three weeks after it debuted, when a gaggle of major media companies sent a cease-and-decease letter to its creators. They were irked with the way it sucked in articles from their sites, reformatted them, and stripped out all the advertising, thereby competing with their own sites and apps without seeking permission or providing compensation. The complainants included Time Inc., owner of you-know-who.
The Zite folks swiftly moved to pacify these publishers: Instead of rejiggering the presentation of their articles, the app now shows you the stories as they appear at the originating sites, ads and all. That's actually a tolerable alternative to the presentation that got Zite in trouble, since that one is nowhere near as polished as Flipboard: some material gets garbled, photos are oddly small, and you can't watch videos. (All three of these apps provide Web views as an option even for material that they strip down and reformat.)
Of course, Flipboard itself was performing Zite-like reformatting and ad-stripping before there was a Zite. So far, however, it's managed to avoid the wrath of the publishing industry, at least in part because it's establishing partnerships with media companies including Time Inc., which authorized an official Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition section. Taptu, meanwhile, errs on the side of caution: It often chops off articles midway, forcing you to go to the originating sites to read them in their entirety.
The iPad may be ideally suited to magazine-style reading, but what if you haven't splurged on one? Taptu has iPhone and Android versions, and a version for Android tablets such as Motorola's Xoom is in the works. And if you'd like to read a personalized magazine on your Windows PC or Mac, check out Genieo, a program that analyzes your reading habits in Zite-like fashion, then links to articles it thinks you'll like. Genieo is a bit unwieldy using it involves installing both an app that runs at all times and a browser add-in but it did a good job of figuring out my interests and finding relevant stories.
As I've spent time with all these apps, I've been fantasizing about the personalized magazine of my dreams. It would be as beautifully simple as Flipboard, as tweakable as Taptu, and as smart about figuring out your interests as Zite. It would have a decent enough relationship with content companies that they wouldn't threaten to sic lawyers on it. And as with Genieo, you'd be able to use it on a mundane old personal computer.
Tech companies have an admirable habit of shamelessly borrowing each others' best ideas, so I suspect a product along these lines isn't too far off. For now the first personalized magazine of this sort remains the most personable one which is why Flipboard remains my go-to app when I want to forget about technology and just read.
McCracken blogs about personal technology at Technologizer, which he founded in 2008 after nearly two decades as a tech journalist. On Twitter, he's @harrymccracken. His column, also called Technologizer, appears every Thursday on TIME.com.