Pulse, Google Reader, and the 24 Hour War Crimes Channel

Last month the news was announced that Google is continuing its reign of mass filicide by shutting down its popular feed-aggregation service: ‘Google Reader’. This closure makes Reader the latest in a long line of services the search giant has chosen to take out back with a shotgun and send the way of Google Buzz.

As a result of this closure, I’ve been forced to find an alternative source for my daily intake of celebrity trivia and pandemic bereavement. Having trialled a couple of alternatives I settled down on ‘Pulse’, a self-proclaimed “visual” news site.

The aim of Pulse is simple: to transform the dreary RSS content of international news sites into stunning ‘image-wall’ mosaics. – Think FoxTab for news.

As you can see from the below screenshot, Pulse is a colourful and intuitive way to interact with the day’s headlines, making the news a more approachable and aesthetic experience.

App Review: Pulse.Me

The only thing that really lets Pulse down is its severly misplaced assumption that all news content is in some way aesthetically pleasing.

In my mind, there are two types of newspaper content: the drab, and the grizzly.

With regards to the former, the majority of news coverage converts Pulse’s homepage into a looming collage of politicians’ faces and graphs of the Euro. (Not exactly a masterpiece of mosaic art)

As for the latter: the days when the news agenda takes a rather grizzly turn; opening Pulse first thing in the morning is much like browsing a serial killer’s scrapbook.

Personally I decided to remove my subscription to Pulse the day of the Boston bombings, when my home screen was quickly converted into a “stunning collage” of bloodshed and mayhem.

As much as I don’t appreciate Pulse’s efforts to transform dismembered civilians into objects of aesthetic artistry, I do believe that it’s not Pulse’s developers who are to blame.

In many ways, services such as Pulse are merely responding to the existing demands of the internet age: an age which forefronts aesthetics and commonly confuses beauty for content.

As a culture we’ve become obsessed with visuals.

Newspapers are forced to act like magazines, magazines are forced to act like TV shows, and TV shows are forced to compete for the most gaudy visuals available.

Forget meaning or content, in the attention economy its all about the visuals. We’d watch 24 hour war crimes if they were shot in a high enough definition.

“Live from Guantanamo: It’s the War Crimes channel! – Just check out the resolution of those boiler suits. It’s like you’re really there! …Press the red button now to play our hilarious waterboarding challenge!”

In the modern age we don’t have time to consider motivations or meaning. Lightning speed data and limitless information have made fact-checking a luxury pursuit. Instead we’d rather opt for a quick fix, allowing visuals and snapshots to interpret the world for us.

It is this obsession which sites like Pulse are helping to enforce, furthering the idea that if something isn’t visual, then it’s not worth our time.

…I miss Google Reader already.

Alex Warren
Alex Warren
Miserablist, whiskey-drinker, and general tinpot shambles. Alex Warren has a weary pessimism for all things media, politics and tech.