Transitioning From Working in an Office to Working From Home

There are many different adjustments required when you move from working in an office for someone else to working from home by yourself. For me, one of the challenges has been scheduling time to catch up with people. 

While working at Microsoft as an evangelist, part of my job involved meeting up with people, grabbing a coffee and finding out what they’re working on, often to see if there might be a helpful solution for them in Microsoft’s developer tools and frameworks. I enjoyed the chance to get out of Sandyford, visit other offices and just generally hear about interesting projects.

Now as I am working from home in Dun Laoghaire for myself and billing clients, I find the days absolutely fly by and I have precious little time to get everything done that I want to do.  Spending three hours to head in to town, meet someone for lunch or coffee and then head back south, is now a luxury that I can’t always make time for.  The hard thing about this is that it was a part of my job that I really loved, so it can be tough to say no to people because saying yes often comes at the cost of working late into the night or being behind on projects (and sometimes both).

Yesterday I asked Twitter how people do this, how they turn down people whether it’s because they no longer have the time, the conversations are less relevant or they don’t want to give away consultation work for free.  I received some very interesting, mostly useful answers and thought I would share them. It seems to be something many folks have dealt with or are anticipating dealing with, so I hope this is useful for others as it was for me.


“Sure I’ll let you know when I’m out your way.”

Suggest a halfway point or post-work hours where it’s handy for both

Tell them you now have to be strict with your breaks, now that you’re a freelancer.

Post something on Twitter about how you no longer have free time to meet for coffee :-)

Tell them you’re very busy with your new consultancy, etc. and that they can schedule a site visit or such

“I am sorting my belly button fluff for a mixed media presentation.”

Be honest about how busy you are and how valuable your time is.

It’s good to talk so fit them in if possible; a good test is to get them to come to you.

“No, but I can meet up after 6pm. And you’re buying the coffee.” :-)

I’ve decided nothing in life is free, so either do a free consultation if they’re going to pay, otherwise they can pay for just the consultation.

Barter. One hour of my time consulting on my specialty, then one hour on what they know about or another trade for which they’re paid.

Pre-invoice them for the time.

Invite them to your office to save your travel time.

Handle it with a call. Give high level information on the main changes needed and 2-3 examples from their site/app.

Pop over for a coffee and I’ll tell you how to deal with this!

Tell them to meet you at fastfit where there are loadsa types.

You gotta be blunt, it’s not show friends, it’s show business!


Many thanks to @blowdart, @janeruffino, @jkeyes, @mike_ireland, @jamfer09, @CAMURPHY, @dermdaly, @jaimekristene, @dotnetster, @enormous, @irishstu, @lucidplot, @User_Story, and @WebDublin for your very helpful ideas and tips.

Tuesday Newsday: The Irish Newspaper Edition

A few weeks ago, I did an analysis of some worldwide news source apps and websites, one of which was The Irish Times. Apparently many people had not seen The Irish Times’ iOS app and I received a lot of feedback from people on the blog, on Twitter and in person expressing disappointment and, in one instance, embarrassment, in local newspapers’ lack of tech savvy and design.

I wanted to know if The Irish Times were unique in their approach and who in the Irish newspaper scene was creating the most cutting-edge and user-friendly experiences. Today I’m looking at the other two big, daily Irish broadsheet newspapers, The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner, and next time I’ll cover some of the newer, digital-only initiatives.


Irish Independent front page


The Irish Independent was formed in 1905 as the direct successor to the Daily Irish Independent.  Today it is published daily by Independent News and Media (INM), an international newspaper and communications group.  Independent Digital is the digital consumer division of INM and operates websites such as, and, with being the flagship brand.

Looking at The Irish Independent’s website, my first thought was, “Thank goodness they have an iPad app”(this turned out not to be as big of a relief, but more on that later). There is just so much content and so many ways to read it, and the site does not adjust well for an iPad-sized device.  Trying to navigate to gives you the following error.

Navigating to

On the bottom of the front page of the main site (and you do have to scroll for a while, there is a lot of content there!) you’ll see this:

imagewhich shows you that you do have some options to view using mobile devices.  The RSS page has links to feeds for basically every category such as Personal Finance, Horse Racing, European News, etc. The Mobile page lists their various custom apps, including iPhone, Nokia, Samsung Wave (!) and iPad versions.  I looked on the Windows Phone Marketplace as well but didn’t see any official or unofficial Independent apps (WP7 developers, take note!).

Irish Independent iPad App     Irish Independent iPad App

Unfortunately, the Irish Independent is using the same software The Irish Times are using for their iPad app. I really hope this isn’t setting the precedent for Irish news experiences, that would be so sad. The silver lining is that since both of these apps use external payment systems, it’s just a matter of time before they’re kicked out of the App Store for violating Apple terms and conditions.  Whether they’ll adapt the software they use to work with Apple’s in-app subscription purchases or abandon it and try something else remains to be seen.  I do hope that the numbers tell the right story for both newspapers and they try a different, more appropriate approach for the iPad rather than deciding that “people aren’t spending money on news apps”, as that is definitely not the case.

Irish Independent iPhone Article View     Irish Independent iPhone Article View

The sad thing about the iPad app is that the iPhone app is so much better. Containing the most popular sections of The Irish Independent’s website, the iPhone app has access to breaking news, business, sport, entertainment, travel, health and others. Users can customize the menu bar with their favourite sections, and the app can be synched so that the user can read offline later.

Sign up for for e-mail newsletters

If you don’t have a compatible mobile device and you’re not an RSS user, The Irish Independent also offer e-mail updates and Facebook integration.  The newsletter process is maybe a bit long with four separate screens, but the e-mails are nicely formatted and contain a large amount of news content from various categories.


Irish Independent Digital Edition subscription page

There is such a wide variety of approaches by The Irish Independent that I have a lot of hope they’ll be the first ones in Ireland to get it right.  While the varied attempts show potentially changing priorities or investments, there is certainly no doubt that they are very willing to try anything and everything.  The picture above and below are examples of something you can find on the Independent’s website, something called the “Digital Edition.”  It’s very much like the ePaper approach, where you have the full scan of the page and you have to zoom, pinch and pan around to read any stories.  Definitely an odd take, but one way it might be useful would be if you could download it. As I have a long flight back to the US tomorrow, if I didn’t have an iPad, I might consider zipping up a paper in this format and saving it to my desktop to read the next day. 

Irish Independent Digital Edition zoomed in

I mentioned above that for me, the real value here is not downloading a zip file of large image scans of news, but in seeing the work that The Irish Independent are investing in to finding the best strategy and executing it. I have high hopes for their future digital attempts and will keep a close eye on them.



Irish Examiner front page


The Irish Examiner is a publication of Thomas Crosbie Holdings Limited. It was formerly The Cork Examiner and then The Examiner, and it has been around since 1841 when it was founded by John Francis Maguire. I couldn’t find any information on when they started their digital presence unfortunately, the Wikipedia entry is a bit thin.

At first glance, the front page of looks cleaner and less cluttered than other Irish news websites.  There is a lot of white space and less “cramming” than many other front pages.  The number of advertisements at the top of the page, though, is a bit distracting.  Looking at the above image, the myhome advertisement on the right is outside of the width of the rest of the content, which makes it feel odd or misplaced, and the top NIB banner ad also feels like it’s in a frame outside of the page. The Office365 ad appears slightly more normal inside the page with the rest of the content.

Irish Examiner Navigation Menu with Digital Edition link

The Irish Examiner does not have an iPhone or iPad app, but they do use the same “Digital Edition” system that The Irish Independent are using.  Lets agree that we don’t need to cover that anymore.

Irish Examiner Digital Edition

Visiting results in a server not found error, however on their Mobile link, they mention which resolves to a very bare but usable page with an Irish Examiner logo at the top, three top news story links and some additional links to Breaking News, Ireland, World, Sport, etc.  Not the most beautiful page but it is easier to use than trying to look at on your phone.

Irish Examiner Mobile site article view

Irish Examiner Mobile site main page


I see a little in The Irish Examiner that I do in The Irish Independent: an intent to build something useful, the acceptance that news is moving online and that they need to do something about it.  But I also see some confusion, some budget constraints and some trepidation in investing too much time and money in an unsure area.



Am I missing someone who is doing something really fantastic with digital news in Ireland? There are a lot of regional newspapers, so I’m going through them all, but if you have seen something great that you enjoy using or hope other news sources adopt, please leave a comment or let me know.

Tuesday Newsday: Pay walls, Freemium, Business Class – What Works?

There’s backlash against pay walls, dropping ad rates, and a serious amount of competition for viewer eyeballs.  How should online publishers navigate the world of pay walls and premium content, whether we’re talking about tablet publications or web publications? Will people pay for content? Especially given that there is so much available for free?

To investigate the different business models, today I’m looking at a few sites and apps: the Boston Globe premium site, The New York Times’ new paywall, and the blended model of The Atlantic.



The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe made headlines last week with their beautiful new premium news site,  The site is free until the end of September so that people can try it out for a few weeks and enjoy the new design and features.  Their previous site,, shown below, remains in place and is free.


Current version of

What’s so exciting about the new site?  The new site appears to have been a complete overhaul, starting from scratch with no legacy.  It’s automatically customized for any device, uses a responsive design, and looks great everywhere. The design is clean and fresh and easy to use. There is no need to pinch or zoom no matter how you’re viewing it. on iPad on iPad

Additional nice touches include the ability to save stories for offline reading, additional video and photography, access to archives and back issues and a loyalty program for subscribers to get access to special events.

As a bonus, since the new Boston Globe site is in HTML5 and works in Mobile Safari, they can presumably ignore the App Store if they want and hang on to their subscriber information as well as the 30% apple cut. on iPhone on iPhone on iPhone

Will this model work?  The Boston Globe already had over 6 million uniques each month on its previous site.  This is a very new site so we will have to wait and see what the numbers look like after the pay wall goes up in October.  I notice a lot of people online claiming they would be happy to pay small subscriptions for better content, fewer ads, access anywhere and other perks, so hopefully this works out and makes the extra effort of running two distinct sites worth it.



In March of this year, the New York Times site launched a new pay wall with a structure designed to draw a line between casual readers and avid readers of The New York Times.  Casual readers, those reading less than 20 articles per month, have free access to the articles.  Once a reader has crossed the threshold of 20 articles, he or she is asked to pay between $15 & $35 per month depending on the access requested (browser only, iPad app, etc.) as shown in the table below.

Digital Subscription Pricing for

Large business papers like The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal have been charging for their content for a while now, but The New York Times has been offering free content, with occasional experiments in access restriction like requiring users to log in.  In January of this year, reported over 48 million unique visitors.  Once the pay wall went up in March, visits to were said to have dropped as much as 15 per cent almost immediately.

              NY Times on iPad

Many print+online newspapers are getting to the point where they realize they need to do something to monetize their online presence, especially given that print subscriptions are dropping.  But people get scared when they hear about reader drop-off from pay walls. 

“Oh no!” they shriek. “If everyone leaves, our advertisers will see the numbers and leave or demand lower ad rates!”

It seems like a big problem.

The New York Times thought about this a lot. They give all print subscribers free all access subscriptions.  Here are people who already like your content; if they’re not already reading it online why not let them for free, as it may add more regular website visitors.  For new digital subscribers, they have three different plans to suit various use cases, with a very heavily discounted starting rate of 99 cents.

NY Times in Mobile Safari on iPhone    NY Times in iPhone App

Right, right, back to the reader drop off.  If you were never making any money from any visitors (only advertisers), certainly any subscriber paying you should increase your revenue, provided the numbers don’t drop so severely that you lose all the advertisers.  This is why the casual free access is critical, it keeps the visitor number relatively high.  There’s a balance to how much drop-off the site can sustain while gaining revenues from paying customers.  In May, a Citi analyst predicted that if the NY Times lost 20% of its visitors, it would need around 107k subscribers to break even.

107k subscribers is definitely a large number.  But is it unreasonable? In April they reported over 100,000 new digital subscribers and by August over 400,000.  Without exact visitor and advertiser revenue numbers it’s hard to say whether that equals success or not, but it sounds promising. 

It reminds me a lot of a blog post Marco Arment wrote earlier this year (and also discussed on his excellent podcast with Dan Benjamin, Build and Analyze) where he discussed the economics of removing the free version of Instapaper.  He mentions bad conversion rates, low demand, undesirable customers, and other pieces that contribute to why free apps might not make sense, both economically and psychologically in terms of dealing with people who take free things for granted.

NY Times in Mobile Safari on iPad

Will this model work?  The New York Times has done its homework in designing and implementing this pay wall.  It’s not overly restrictive, yet it’s already working in growing subscriptions.  Perhaps this model works best here as The New York Times already had a huge audience, but smaller, local US newspapers like The Augusta Chronicle are also trying this out.  A report from the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri revealed earlier this summer that 46% of newspapers with circulation of under 25,000 said they are already charging for at least some online content.  Of the newspapers that currently don’t charge, only 15% said they have no plans for a pay model.  Get ready.



                    The Atlantic app on iPad

I have blogged previously about the nice job The Atlantic did with their combination free-and-paid content app. Their free, universal iOS app includes their great website content from both and But it also includes a magazine section which allows print magazine subscribers to access the same content for free and non-print subscribers to either purchase a digital subscription or buy individual issues via in-app purchase.

This is a nice blend as it allows the casual reader of The Atlantic to purchase occasional issues, such as the annual Fiction issue, while also giving free access to existing readers.  The annual digital subscription is slightly discounted at $21.99 (print subscriptions cost $24.95 or more for outside the US) and looking at their page in the App Store shows that the annual subscription is their top-selling in-app purchase, which is a good sign that people are paying for it.

Atlantic Magazine article on iPad    Atlantic web article in iPad app

Will this model work?  I mentioned in my previous blog post that while I think their magazine reading experience is decent, I think they may suffer a bit from people reluctant to spend money just to try out the magazine.  Offering one free magazine download to app users might increase the number of people willing to purchase occasional issues or full subscriptions.  While The Atlantic already has a large subscriber base, this model would also work for publications with smaller audiences who need to build their subscribers.  It works because it allows easy access to content in a well-designed manner, and then also has something to offer the individual who is enjoying the content & still wants more.



Perhaps one of the above models will work for your publication. Perhaps not. If you’re scared of reader dropout with a pay wall, remember that even high traffic sites like are conscious of this and testing it out as an experiment.  Now is the time for trying disruptive and experimental models because no one has found the one right way to ensure publishers make their content available in the best manner for their audience.  Not everyone can fund their site based on advertising alone, so it’s time to be creative.

Here are some other random ideas:
– What about not charging your top influentials? People that share X articles per month get free access.  Or people who comment on >X articles per month get free access.
– Instead of charging for “subscriptions”, charge a “membership fee” like some top reporting sites do.
– Give away whatever the current content (this week’s paper, this month’s magazine) is but charge for access to archives.
– Give away content for free on the site but charge for the convenience of the mobile app.
Coupon codes: Let your contributors give away coupon codes to their family and friends for free access forever or for a limited time.  Do the same with influential users so they can share more easily.
Give away summary content for free on Facebook & Google Plus (what will happen with the new Wall Street Journal idea?), charge for it on your site
– Give away content for free for a limited time to show off new design or features, ala Boston Globe’s relaunch: “Free for September, after that we lock it down.”
– Give away every new feature for free for a limited time, then put it into the members-only access pile.
– Team up with partner sites and non-competitors to offer access to several sites together, or offer discounts on partner products/sites like the Slovakian newspapers.
– Take an exclusive advertiser to sponsor the development of a new mobile app.
– Offer free trials during partner/media events. You’re the media partner for the food festival? All attendees get a free month of access.

There are loads of other ideas that no one else has come up with yet. Lots of publishers are starting to build their own, creative labs like the NY Times’ Beta620 project, the Globe Lab responsible for, and The Guardian’s Open Platform and Data Store projects.  These range from well-funded projects to crowd-sourced experiments, but they’re all coming up with new ideas that are creating conversation.

beta620 from the New York Times    GlobeLab on Twitter



The following articles are also good sources of inspiration for new models and thinking differently about this space:
What newsrooms can learn from tech start-ups
Innovation in turbulent times
NYT Labs: Can a newspaper think like a start-up?

An Introduction to Treesaver

The CS Forum TimesIn my Content Strategy Forum workshop, we created a short, online magazine called The CS Forum TimesThe magazine used Treesaver to quickly layout the articles and images and make them work well on a variety of browsers and devices.  This is an overview of how we built The CS Forum Times and how you can do something similar very quickly and easily.  The before and after files we used are located here for you to download.


To create your own online publication, the simple steps are as follows:

  1. 1) Source your content
  2. 2) Source your art/imagery
  3. 3) Create a new HTML file for each article & paste in the content
  4. 4) Style using an HTML editor
  5. 5) Resize images if necessary & add in image tags
  6. 6) Edit the TOC file & make sure you’ve included each article
  7. 7) Upload to your server



With The CS Forum Times, I chose published articles from well-known speakers and organizers of CS Forum 2011.  Using content that is on the web makes it much easier as converting content from a PDF or Word document into HTML can be a pain.

NOTE: As this is just a short, proof-of-concept tutorial, I am not covering rights management, copyright, asset management, etc.  It is your responsibility to make sure you have the right permissions to reuse and publish material that is not yours or not original.



I was lucky with the articles I found in that most of them already had relevant artwork in the articles.  For a couple of the longer articles, I also added things like company and conference logos as well as headshots.

I wanted to have a cover, but it may or may not be necessary for your title.  I did this simply by creating a few full-page sized images in an image editor using logos and text from the event.



Now here I’ve helped you out by creating a small boilerplate zip file.  Inside the WorkshopBegin folder you’ll find everything you need for a simple Treesaver magazine.  Index.html is a sample cover page.  Page1.html is a sample article page.

The best thing to do is duplicate page1.html for each article you have.  So if you have four articles, copy it three times and rename them so you have page1.html, page2.html, etc. Or use better names that make more sense to you. 

Inside page1.html I’ve added two comment tags that look like this:
Inside those two lines is where you want to paste the content of the article.  What are you actually pasting? Lets say we’re including my last blog post:  I can copy & paste from the browser, starting with “Last week…” and ending with “…excellent places to start.”  Alternately, I can do a “View page source” from my browser to take all the HTML styling with me and save me some time later.  So instead I would be starting with whatever comes after “<div class=”entry-content”>”, which is how WordPress tells you the blog post text is starting.  That would have me copying starting with “<p>Last week I …” and ending with “…</a> are excellent places to start.</p>”



If you copied HTML content including the tags, you may not have to style it.  However it’s more likely that you’ll want to do a bit of styling to create paragraph breaks, make headings stand out, etc.  If you use any HTML editor such as CoffeeCup, BBEdit or something similar, then go ahead and open your new HTML files there and give them some style.  Take it slow at first and check frequently to make sure it’s looking the way you’d expect.

Due to browser security restrictions, the files will appear most accurate if you view Treesaver content running in a local web server.  A free app like XAMPP (works on Windows, OS X, Linux) is easy-to-use and adequate for viewing the files on a local server and checking to make sure they look and work right.



As you may notice if you resize your browser, Treesaver will adjust the image used for your content.  This has some great benefits, including mobile devices will not try to download an enormous image and then resize it and differently sized images don’t have to be of the same thing.

But those benefits do mean that you will need to resize and save your images at a few different sizes.  I’d recommend going for at least two, one for a mobile device (width of 280 or so) and one for a desktop browser (width of 600-ish), but you can create more depending on your style.  For the cover page, as an example, I created three to make sure the full-size image fit well for the viewer.

Any image editor will work fine, you just need to resize the image (keep the proportions intact) and save it with a different name.  I typically add the width to the end of the image file name to keep them straight.  So if my initial image was headshot.jpg, I resize and end up with headshot-280.jpg & headshot-600.jpg.

Editing the image tags can be tricky so be careful.  Each set of resized images must be enclosed in a <figure> tag.   The image tags themselves should have their height & weight attributes set.  So as an example, the two images above might look like this at the end of the html file:

    <img data-sizes=”single” src=”
width=”280″ height=”130″ />
    <img data-sizes=”double” data-src=”headshot-600.jpg”
width=”600″ height=”280″ />

The image tags are to be placed in the corresponding article’s HTML file.



The last thing you need to do before you upload is edit the Table of Contents file.  The TOC file specifies the order of the articles and which ones are included so it’s very important.

For each article to be included, you’ll need a hyperlink to the article with the attribute “itemprop=url”.  A typical article might look like this:

<div class=”keeptogether” itemscope>
<h5 itemprop=”title”><a itemprop=”url” href=”
article1.html“>My First Article</a></h5>

The TOC file can get more complex including things like advertisements, an actual page for the TOC (the one included keeps itself hidden) with titles, bylines & thumbnails, etc.  We’re keeping it as a simple list of article titles here.



Once you have everything ready to go and you’ve checked it out in XAMPP or another local file server, you’re ready to upload everything onto your server.  You’ll need to include everything that was in the .zip file including resources.html, style.css and your edited article and TOC files.  You’ll also need the image files you resized, whether they’re in the same folder or a subfolder.  Upload all of that to your webserver and navigate to it in a browser.  Voila!  Your brand new publication is online and live.



treesaver logoYes, this is a very short overview.  Treesaver is quite powerful in terms of what it can do and I’ve tried to minimize as much complexity as I could to make it a fast tool to get started with. To learn more, check out the discussion on Google Groups and walk through the tutorial on GitHub.  To do more with Treesaver you’ll need to start to understand how the resources.html & style.css files depend on each other to define the layout and customize content further.  There’s a bit about this in the GitHub tutorial, but it takes some time to get your head around it.



I know, I know, cut-and-paste is not a valid tool or method of publishing.  Treesaver is new and still building its community.  I hear there are folks working on plug-ins for a few popular CMSs like Expression Engine, WordPress and Drupal.  Your best bet for the latest news on those is the Google Group.  If you are working in an organization with a custom CMS, your tech team can look at Treesaver to see if it’s an option for them to build a plug-in for it.



If you give it a shot, please be sure to let me know how it goes.  If you get stuck or confused, e-mail me or check the Google Group discussions for more information.  If there are additional pieces that are tricky or could use some more clear instructions, let me know and I’ll do a more in-depth piece on specific sections.  Good luck and publish away.

CS Forum 2011 :: My Workshop Slides & Content

Last week I delivered a half-day workshopimage at Content Strategy 2011 London on Designing Narrative ContentWe covered topics like what makes narrative content effective versus useless, how to optimise workflow for narrative content, and technology options for narrative content.  The slides are below.

During the last section of the workshop we created our own, short, digital magazine called The CS Forum Times, which  is now here:  The magazine content is recent articles and blog posts from speakers and organizers of CS Forum 2011 and was created in Treesaver.  There are materials at for those who would like a small boilerplate to start with.

The next blog post I do will be a short intro on how I built The CS Forum Times using Treesaver and will include some of the demos I did in the workshop with altering image sizes, so if you take a look at the starting point and want to know more, that blog post tomorrow will be a good overview.  If you’re interested in learning how to do more with Treesaver, & are excellent places to start.

Tuesday Newsday: Two Approaches to Magazine Apps

Today I’m looking at two literary institutions and how they approached their app versions: The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.  I call both of them institutions because, while I know the New Yorker has been around far, far longer, both have grown from publishing regular collections of excellent writing to well-known publishing houses with large, fervent fan bases.

McSweeney's Website

I fell in love with McSweeney’s around ten years ago after a friend pointed me to Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency collection of Lists.  From there I grew to being a regular reader of the hilarious writing which was less in-your-face-hilarious like The Onion (unless you are one of those people who shows up regularly on Literally Unbelievable) but somehow more rewardingly funny.  As if one might get points for liking it because not everyone gets it.  McSweeney’s actually started in 1998 as a journal to publish only works rejected by other magazines, but they quickly abandoned that rule and became a very attractive literary publication to write for.  They publish the print journal quarterly along with a quarterly DVD magazine called Wholphin, a monthly magazine called The Believer, and their regularly updated Internet content too.

The New Yorker website

The New Yorker has always been sort of a guilty pleasure for me.  The writing and journalism is so good that I can’t stand buying a copy without reading the whole thing, but it takes me forever.  So I only buy it when I have several long flights coming up.  The New Yorker, in stark contrast to McSweeney’s, has been around since 1925 (it became part of Condé Nast in 1999), and its timeless covers, cartoons and illustrations are classic.  The New Yorker continues to publish its weekly print collection of well-researched journalism and essays as well as newsletters, cartoon collections and podcasts.  Their content is made available for iPhone/iPad, Kindle and Nook as well as an audio-only version via  The New Yorker artwork and covers are sold as popular wall art, diaries, and various other gift and desk items.

So both of these publishers do a lot more than just publish their excellent writing.  Both also have created dedicated, specific iPad apps for their content, so let’s take a look at them.

Both apps require you to pay in some way for their content.   With McSweeney’s, you pay $5.99 for the app and get six months of exclusive content.  With the New Yorker, the app is free but you pay for either a monthly or annual subscription ($5.99/$59.99 respectively), or link your existing print subscription, or purchase individual magazines for $4.99.


The New Yorker App Splash Page


There’s really nothing to do or browse with the New Yorker app unless you buy an issue or subscribe.  Once you subscribe or purchase, you get a pop-up asking you to fill in an e-mail address & password for additional bonus content.  This is a clever move as one of the most lamented aspects of the App Store by publishers (and in fact, the reason The Financial Times claims is why they ended up creating their HTML5 app) is that they lose a lot of their personal connection and demographic information of their subscribers. 

New Yorker in App Store   New Yorker Create Account

A subscription for a month and one individual issue are only a single dollar difference, so I subscribed for a month, but I know I’m going to spend this month guilt-ridden that I haven’t gotten through all the great content yet.  Issues are heavy at over 100 MB each and take a bit of time to download.  Mine paused for a while, and I thought it might be due to space, so I cleared out some room. But it never finished downloading the issue, even after cancelling & restarting the download. I’ll try it again next week.

Luckily you can start reading partially downloaded issues.  Once you jump into the issue it looks just like the physical magazine, including a slide-out panel for the typical print cover overlay.

New Yorker Cover View   New Yorker Issue View

I’m torn on the “How To” pages in apps.  Part of me thinks you just shouldn’t have to explain it (i.e., if you need a page to explain how it works, yer doin’ it wrong), but part of me knows that a lot of these gestures just aren’t second nature or intuitive to everyone yet.  For this one you may dock or award points for their odd and occasionally funny instructions video featuring Jason Schwartzman.  The rest of the app is more or less what you would expect from Conde Nast. 

New Yorker How-To Page   New Yorker Table of Contents View

Articles scroll top-to-bottom, and a left-right swipe navigates to the next page.  There’s a zoom out button in the top right corner to navigate more quickly through the app, and a slider at the bottom of each page to move you forwards or backwards fast.  You can get a pop-out table of contents box also to jump around.

New Yorker Article View   New Yorker Zoomed Out Navigation

If you’re a frequent reader of The New Yorker, you might find this app to be an handy way to take your content with you.  It’s a nicer app than many other popular iPad magazine apps, and it’s doing the best out of all the Condé Nast iPad publications with a reported 20,000 subscribers.  Not anywhere close to their one million print subscribers (Condé Nast reported in August that their digital sales were around 1.3% of their total circulation), but still a definite lead.  There are definitely some optimizations they could do for the iPad format to make it more responsive and an overall better fit.  For example, it’s often not clear what is clickable and what isn’t (images, ads, etc.). But if you’re looking just for an easy way to get to the great content The New Yorker publishes, you’ll be very happy with this app.


McSweeney's Splash Page


The first thing you have to do with the McSweeney’s app is create an account specifically for using their iOS applications.  Minor annoyance, but it’s a one-time thing.  The app’s $5.99 price tag includes six months of access to Small Chair content, which is a weekly selection from all things McSweeney’s.  It might include something from the Quarterly or the Believer, or a film from Wholphin, but whatever it is, it isn’t available online.

McSweeney's Create An Account   McSweeney's Main Page

The two items of importance on the main menu are “Internet Tendency” where you can read latest short articles from their site (including my beloved Lists) and “Small Chair” which is a collection of stories, interviews and short videos.

McSweeney's Internet Tendency List   McSweeney's Internet Tendency Article

The main difference between Internet Tendency and Small Chair content  (besides the fact that one is free online and the other is accessible only from the app) is the formatting.  The Internet Tendency articles are shareable (which makes sense since they’re already online), have variable font size, and scroll top to bottom.  The Small Chair articles are paginated, not shareable (which also makes sense since they’re custom content for the app), allow the reader to set bookmarks and do not have alterable font sizes.  Internet Tendency articles online rarely have images, so they don’t in the app either, but the Small Chair articles often have a full page image or two to start the story, similar to the opening pages in The Atavist stories.

McSweeney's Small Chair Article   McSweeney's Small Chair Article Landscape

Having both scrolling and paginated styles is interesting because the two reading styles are hotly contested.  It’s a bit of a religious war, and there is very little actual proof that one is better than the other.  I talked about this in my Content Strategy Forum workshop last week, and I’ll do a blog post on it later.  I wanted to mention it simply because I haven’t seen many apps that do both; generally a designer feels strongly about one over the other and that’s the style used.

McSweeney's Weekly Update

The main menu contains a link to a store where you can purchase additional reading material specially formatted for your device, extend your subscription (your purchase of the app includes a six-month subscription to weekly Small Chair content), or view content you’ve downloaded. There is also a small News section at the bottom to tell you what’s included in the latest content.

McSweeney's Store   McSweeney's Purchase Article

The McSweeney’s app is utterly charming.  It’s well-designed and has several animations and transitions that will make you smile as you use it.  $5.99 might sound pricey for an app which contains a lot of content that is free on their website, but the additional surprise writing and videos are excellent and it’s definitely worth trying out.  McSweeney’s is the type of company who will try anything and see what sticks, so I’m sure they’ll have more interesting, useful and of course funny updates later as well.



Seth Godin wrote a short, interesting piece a couple of weeks ago called “Should the New Yorker change?”  In it, he says that for the first time, the editors at The New Yorker know which articles are being read and who is reading them.  I noticed that in the McSweeney’s app, they also take a lot of feedback from reader activity.  The question is, should this dictate what the publishers create and produce?

It’s one thing when the app is curating content it serves you from many different sources like Zite does.  But letting the reader activity and behaviour change what gets written or investigated seems like one step too far somehow.  It makes me think of Eli Pariser’s TED talk about filter bubbles, and how so many articles I’ve loved in The New Yorker were interesting to me because I knew nothing about them.  If my current knowledgebase and interests dictate what I read and learn about in the future, I suspect I would slowly grow bored of reading. Unthinkable! Reader feedback is great for UI, UX, design, but I rely a lot on great editors, journalists and authors to find unique and interesting stories to tell.

Free eBooks, Audiobooks and More, Courtesy of Your Local Library

I’ve explained how to do this to so many people that I thought it was worth writing a blog post about it. For several months, I’ve been enjoying downloading free audio and eBooks from the Dun Laoghaire library website.  A friend of mine told me about this in the US earlier this year, and I was incredibly jealous.  I was delighted to come back to Dublin and find that my local library has this capability also.



On the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council library page, you can see links to a few different services: Clipper DL, which are audiobooks, and Overdrive, which are audiobooks as well as eBooks.  Without a membership, you can still browse a bit to see what the selection looks like.

DLR Library Website

For Clipper DL, you’ll need to log in to the library site with your library card number & PIN first, then get redirected to the Clipper DL site where you’ll need to create a one-time user ID & password.  To download content, you’ll have to download their Download Manager, which works on both Mac and PC.  As you’re installing that, you can decide if you are going to listen to the books via Windows Media (if you’re on a PC) or use iTunes to put it on an iPod or other Apple device.  It might sound painful but the whole process for your first download will take less than three minutes to install & set up, and after that it will be much quicker.

Clipper DL Download Manager on PC

Each audiobook you download you can keep for 21 days after which the DRM expires it and you have to renew if you’re not finished listening to it.  Clipper DL has a catalogue of around 600 titles, and each month they add five new ones, so the selection is a bit small.  It’s definitely better for fiction than non-fiction titles.


Overdrive has a bit better selection (though neither one is Amazon, so you usually won’t get cutting-edge, brand new or niche topic books).  You can browse through audiobooks, eBooks, and even music and video.  The audiobooks have samples, which is great as the reader’s voice matters a great deal in audiobooks.  Most audiobooks can be downloaded to Mac, PC, burned to a CD, or downloaded as WMA or MP3 for various portable audio devices.

Overdrive Download Options

Similarly to Clipper DL, Overdrive gives you a checkout of 21 days for most downloads, with the exception of music and video which are 14 days maximum.  One of the things I love about Overdrive, though, is that there’s a native iPad app which lets you download, view and listen to eBooks and audiobooks you’ve checked out.  The process is a little clunky but it works and it’s nice to be able to access your checked out books anywhere.

OverDrive App Splash Screen    OverDrive App Contents

With both of these services, there are limited digital copies at a time due to licensing restrictions, so you can request books that are checked out.  You’ll get an e-mail notification when the book is returned or has expired and then it’s held for you for three days to go to the site & check it out.



I don’t know if every library in Ireland has this capability or if Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown is the only one, but for the amount of free content, it’s worth investigating your local library to see if they offer access to this or similar content.  It’s such an amazing resource.  I’m embarrassed to say I was a little shocked at how forward-thinking this library system is to offer these services but also things like language lessons, the Dictionary of Irish Biography, and many other interesting and useful resources.  So if you are spending a lot of money on eBooks or audiobooks, it’s definitely worth your time to go find your local library’s website and take a look.

Tuesday Newsday: Long-Form Content Apps

I have focused on many apps and sites with a wide variety of content. Things like newspaper sites and multimedia magazines. Today we’re covering two apps which focus on doing one thing and doing it well: presenting long-form reading.  The Atavist and Palimpsest have created ideal environments for reading both magazine articles and nonfiction stories.


The Atavist Splash Screen


The Atavist is basically a publishing house for original, bestselling nonfiction stories.  The content tends to be longer than most magazine articles but shorter than a book.  Created by Jefferson Rabb, the app reflects his creative and innovative style reflected in his other well-known digital work for writers like Harkuki Murakami and Jhumpa Lahiri.   The Atavist app is available for the iPhone & iPad, but the individual articles can also be purchased on the Kindle and Nook.


The Atavist Main Page

Stories from The Atavist are all researched, reported & crafted by reporters and writers who specialize in longform content. Most stories are narratives which focus on some kind of human drama: a crime, a science mystery, an adventure, etc.

Let’s start with the reading experience because it’s just so great.  Most of the stories have a preview that you can read, and when you decide to purchase one they are between $1.99 & $2.99.  Each story has a cover from which you can decide whether you want to listen to or read the story.  Stories have full-text search and the ability to change font sizes for ease of reading, too.

Piano Demon    The Instigators

Each story on the iPad is laced with video, audio, imagery and additional layers of information.  I read of it being referred to as “cinematic journalism” which is a great way to describe the experience. Piano Demon, shown above, has lovely accompanying piano music (which you can turn on and off) while you read.  You can also turn on and off the inline elements, which might display things like an interactive map, an image describing a referenced work, relevant definitions of obscure terms and more.  You can share the articles with friends and post comments and read those left by others as well.

The Atavist Article View  The Atavist with Audio Turned On

Or not.  The Atavist does an excellent job of giving you an isolated reading experience if you want that, or a social and interactive reading experience if that’s your preference.  You have options, and that is one thing that is missing from so many digital reading experiences.  I’m tired of being told I need to share and comment and tweet.  I don’t. I just want to read. That might make me an old curmudgeon, but I’m still an old curmudgeon who is willing to pay for stuff to read if you consider the quieter reading experience in your apps. Now get off my lawn. </rant>

The Atavist Help

I love audio books, so for me one of the nicest options is the option to have the audio version read to you as the page scrolls.  It’s a real voice, like real audio books, not a computer-generated voice as with the Kindle’s “Read to Me” functionality (which I do use frequently, but I prefer a human voice).

To support their publishing, The Atavist has built its own custom content CMS called Periodic Technology.  You can read more about their platform here as it’s available for licensing and includes many of the nice features you see in the app itself.  After spending the last few days at Content Strategy Forum 2011 in London to deliver a workshop on publishing narrative content and listening to everyone complain about how inadequate their CMSs are, this one might be worth a look if you’re doing digital publishing.

Overall I am a huge fan of this app and the very high quality stories, each of which is worth every penny.  The Atavist publishes new content every so often, and the best way to stay up-to-date on that is to follow their Twitter account.  Or install the app & make sure to turn on the notifications so you get a pop-up when a new story arrives.



Palimpsest Splash Screen


Palimpsest, which as shown on the splash screen above means a manuscript which has been scraped for reuse, is different from The Atavist in that it does not produce original content but rather hand-picks it from excellent sources.  Palimpsest articles might have been originally published in The New Yorker (there are Malcolm Gladwell articles, for example), Vanity Fair, GQ, The Atlantic and many other sources.

The user interface is quite simple – it’s basically just the content.  One article at a time, and when you’ve finished that article or if you decide to skip it, you can move along to the next.  It’s incredibly easy to use and works very well.

Palimpsest Instructions

When you open Palimpsest, you are provided with several feature-length magazine articles which are curated for you.  As you use the app and indicate what you like and don’t, your tastes and preferences are taken in to account to provide further articles.

Palimpsest Article View

Reading the articles consists of a delightfully focused interface.  The articles scroll and the scroll bar gives you a vague idea of how long the article you’re reading is. If you want to view it in its original source (which is loaded in the background for you if you’re online), click the “View Original” button to be taken to a web view where you can see the article on its initial place of publishing.  You can change article text or send it to your Instapaper account if you prefer to read it there.

Palimpsest Article Options  Palimpsest Information

An information tab tells you how many articles you have, how many are available offline, when the last batch was fetched, and from where content is currently being curated.  The offline part is useful because if you don’t have a data plan or you’re offline for several days at a time, you can still enjoy several new long-form articles.

Palimpsest Original View

Palimpsest is perfect for travelling since it works so well offline, but it’s also perfect for finding great articles for you that you might not have found otherwise.  It removes the clutter and distraction in the interface, but still lets you enjoy things like photos if you like by clicking on the original source.  The more you use it, the more interesting and relevant the sourced articles will be for you.

*Late post this week due to being in the UK the last week for dConstruct and CS Forum*