Zite CEO Expects More Social Readers to Emerge in 2012, Will Microsoft Be Next?

[ Image courtesy of Mark Johnson's Twitter account @philosophygeek. ]

Zite CEO Mark Johnson tells LAUNCH that he expects to see more personalized digital magazines and readers emerge in 2012 followed by consolidation in 2013. Earlier today, CNN-owned Zite launched its app for iPhone. 

"My prediction is that there's going to be a lot more expansion before there's consolidation," Mark says. "I think we'll see a few smaller competitors come out but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw something from Microsoft soon."

Microsoft has received a lot of attention lately since updating Xbox Live, launching Kinect and exploring ideas like using the Xbox 360 as a television connected PC, which would encroach on Apple and Google's existing products.

Google just released Currents yesterday but as Mark notes, even as the space gets more crowded, the switching costs from Zite are pretty high, as it can be frustrating to go through the personalization process again on another app. Similar apps from other major companies include Yahoo's Newstand and Editions by AOL.

"We're all pursuing our own philosophies," Mark says. "Our magazine gets really really smart really really quick. Flipboard is very much about social curation via magazine. Pulse is very much about source base -- looking at individual sources and RSS feeds.  I'm lazy myself and frankly I just want a magazine that knows what i want."

Competitor Flipboard also released its iPhone app this week, their servers couldn't handle the amount traffic the iPhone app resulted in. 

"I have played around with Flipboard's app and as I would expect from Flipboard, it's quite beautiful," Mark says. "It's a place where I go to read my Twitter and Facebook accounts but I'll still use Zite."

In regards to launching the iPhone app the same week as Flipboard, Mark says that the close proximity in launch dates was coincidental.

"We had picked this date months ago," Mark says. "Don't get me wrong, Flipboard has been talking about their iPhone app for almost a year now. It's not surprising they came out with it. The fact that we launched within two days of each other makes me chuckle. I was like wow, this is going to be a red letter week for iPhone news aggregators."

Zite started as a web-based service before launching on the iPad, but only in private beta, Mark says. Earlier this week, Zite launched its first branded app for lululemon but still decided to keep ads out of the app.

"Our brand promise is that we give you highly personalized news and if we deliver it to our customers and don't fit that, we're going to erode our own brand," Mark says in regards to placing ads in-app. I think that we would be sacrificing users in the future."

Mark says that a lot of brands, including lululemon, want to foster a longer and authentic experience with their users.

"For lululemon, they get to have a constant touch point with their guests," Mark says. "Now they get to have this constant touch point with their guests and have a really authentic experience. At the end of the day, everyone wins in this."