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Ongo for iPad is a good start, but it's far from a home run

We told you yesterday that Ongo was on the way to the iPad. It's now on the App Store, and I've had some time to play with it. Ongo is a joint venture by several newspaper companies to create a paid, ad-free news aggregator that is easy to use and will appeal to the news junkie.

After some hours using the app, I found it attractively designed and easy to use. You can see and share top stories from several publications like the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Post. The app doesn't cache much, so reading offline does not appear to be an option. You can save stories, called clippings, but once saved, I could not retrieve them without a data connection. The app allows you to sort news by type, like US or Arts and Entertainment, but there are no sections for tech (!) or even politics. It seems a glaring omission. You can certainly read stories on those subjects, but you can't sort them on your own.

All the news in Ongo is created by a staff of five editors, so you're not getting the full NYT or USA Today. The staff choose what will be available, which I found troubling. Also, when searching for "Opinion," I only got material from the Washington Post. Worse yet, Hints from Heloise came up under the "Opinion" heading, with tips on cleaning pewter. Sorry, but I don't think that was a good editorial choice. There is a search function, and a query for Steve Jobs brought up many stories, none of which were relevant. They were just stories that mentioned someone named Steve and had the word "jobs" somewhere in them. An identical search in Google News worked perfectly.

I'm fully on board with media companies wanting to make money on their content. Ongo seems half-baked and not terribly well thought out, and for US$6.99 a month, it should be better. You can widen the options of media sources, but most cost additional money, from $0.99 all they way up to $14.99 a month. I really don't think this thing is going to fly. I get more news and better control using Google or apps like the Pulse Newsreader, which is free.

There's one more thing: Ongo is listed as free on the App Store, and that is true, but it's only free for a day. That limitation is nowhere on the App Store page, which I think is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. It does use the word "subscription," but it says nothing about costs. There's also a little privacy notice on the App Store that is not built into the app. It says Ongo will collect information about your iPad and disclose it to others without limitation. It's non-specific and troubling.

I think there are some good ideas in Ongo, but the execution is flawed. I don't think a lot of people are going to want to pay for curated access to news that is available elsewhere for free. Even if the Ongo app was free, I'd have the same complaints about badly organized content and inability to read it offline.

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