Writing Elsewhere Around the Web

I took a short break from Tuesday Newsday and regular writing here to do some guest posts recently. Below is a quick roundup of what I’ve been up to in terms of articles written, podcasts and speaking engagements.

 

Designing Engaging and Enjoyable Long-Form Reading Experiencesguest article for Smashing Magazine

This article incorporates a lot of concepts that have been driving me crazy about digital content lately, some of which I’ve mentioned in this blog. Bad advertisements, disrespecting the reader, poorly chosen typography and lack of whitespace are just some of the concerns I cover here. If you’re spending time writing for the web, why not make sure it’s visible in a format that is inviting to the reader? Check out this article for ways to show your site or app’s visitors that you’re glad they’re there.

 

The Top 10 Ways to Create Digital Magazinesguest article for .net magazine

I wrote this post for .net magazine, one of my favourite magazines both in print and in digital, on some of the available methods and frameworks for creating digital magazines. I focused on systems which don’t export to just one platform as I don’t believe that’s a sustainable model for most publishers today. Instead I covered things like Laker Compendium (which we use for Idea magazine) and Treesaver that prioritize great web experiences over proprietary formats.

 

“Deep, Dark Secrets of Rupert Murdoch” – talk at Dublin’s #BeerMob event

At  the first (but hopefully not the last!) Dublin #BeerMob, we talked about topics of interest to those who are developing sites or apps for mobile. And there was beer. I talked about Rupert Murdoch of all people, and the secrets behind The Daily. I covered why this isn’t a sustainable method or one anyone should copy and what designers and developers should focus on instead for their users. Slides are below:

 

“Beware the Shiny” – talk at Refresh Dublin on March 15th

I spoke at Refresh Dublin this month on the topic of being cautious of trying to learn too many things all at once. Sounds like a strange topic from someone who lectures in web development! But I see a lot of students spin and spin, not building a foundation as they jump from one shiny framework to the next. We all want to learn new things and keep our skills competitive, but it’s important to do so in a sustainable manner. Below are my slides from the talk:

 

Guest podcast on the Small Business Show

I had the opportunity to speak with Conn and Kehlan this week on the Small Business Show podcast about current news items in the Irish world of SMEs.

http://www.focusmeireland.com/small-business-show-35-with-martha-rotter-of-idea-magazine

 

Guest podcast on the Technology.ie podcast with Stewart Curry

Stewart Curry and I chatted recently with Conn and Michele on the Technology.ie podcast, giving a behind-the-scenes view of Idea magazine and Woop.ie.

http://technology.ie/martha-rotter-and-stewart-curry-from-idea-magazine-tech-heroes-podcast-2/

 

Guest posts for Information Week during Mobile World Congress

Speaking of shiny things, I had the opportunity to attend Mobile World Congress and work with the Information Week team. Mobile World Congress is something I’ve wanted to attend for a long time, so it was great to get to help out such an excellent team. Below are some of the articles I contributed:

Samsung Galaxy Beam Turns Heads: MWC 2012

SecureVoice Encrypts Mobile VoIP Communications

Emporia Telecom: Mobile Phones for Elderly Users

9 Coolest Smartphones at Mobile World Congress

Coyote Systems Driver Info App Expands Across Europe

MWC 2012: Smartphone Apps, Gadgets for Cars

HTC One Smartphone Debut at MWC 2012

ON Voicefeed Aims to Modernize Mobile Voicemail

MWC 2012: Waterproof Your Smartphones, Tablets

Tuesday Newsday: Magazines in Hours

It’s an interesting phenomenon we’re starting to see in a lot of tech and creative circles: what can you build in a weekend?

Charity event 24theWeb creates websites for charities who can’t afford them in 24 hours.

StartupWeekend gets developers and designers together for a weekend to share ideas, build technology and launch start-ups.

Ireland’s 24 Hour Universal Design Challenge creates inclusive design solutions to produce usable environments, buildings and products.

And now in magazines as well, we’re seeing some really fascinating experiments in “what can we publish, given a finite amount of time?”

 

Longshot Magazine Issue 2

LONGSHOT

Longshot has now created two issues of its 48-hour magazine. The second issue, published in July 2011 was created between noon July 29th, 2011 and noon July 31st, 2011. Its theme was “Debt”, and you can read a web version here: http://two.longshotmag.com/ or order from MagCloud if you want a print copy.

The Atlantic has a great article about the methods and tools Longshot used to create their magazine so fast: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-almost-free-toolkit-we-use-to-make-longshot-magazine/242750/. In the article, Alexis Madrigal (who is both a founder of Longshot & a senior editor at The Atlantic) describes how they worked with thousands of people around the world who contributed content and managed things with free tools like Google Docs and Google Forms, raised money via Kickstarter, and posted updates to fans via Twitter, Tumblr and Google+.

Combining content from thousands of contributors, paring it down to the best of the best, editing and laying it out is no small feat. Doing it in a weekend is quite impressive. Unless you want to do it in a day…

 

24HourMagazine

24HOUR MAGAZINE

If 48 hours just seems a little too laid back for you, 24HourMagazine was conceptualized, produced and printed all in a single day with the motto, “1 day. 1 magazine. Start to finish. Scratch to print.”

Founders Tuffer Harris and Sam Mulkay, along with volunteers, created 24HourMagazine in a 24 hour period including topics on fashion, design, music, and lifestyle. The endeavour resulted in a 47-page magazine with no advertisements using a system called Issuu. During the short project, they allowed viewers to check in on progress via photo and video feeds as well as blog and Twitter updates.

Unfortunately it looks like the website is no longer active. However, Cool Hunting has some screen shots of what the completed magazine looked like, and it’s quite beautiful indeed: http://www.coolhunting.com/culture/24-hour-magazin.php.

 

16HOURS Magazine

16HOURS

“Okay,” you’re thinking. “Now this is just getting ridiculous.”  Fear not: 16HOURS is not what you might expect given the above magazines. 16 Hours, as the website states, “is the time difference between Calgary, Canada and Sydney, Australia”, which is where the two designing founders of the magazine live.

16HOURS currently has three issues available, and their website mentions that they’ll be open to accept Instagram submissions for their next issue starting February 16th. So it seems the next issue could be just around the corner. Follow them on Twitter to stay up-to-date.

Like Longshot, you can purchase 16HOURS print or digital editions on the MagCloud site. Issues include content from artists all over the world and based on the previews on the site and on MagCloud, they are beautifully designed.

 

WHAT’S THE POINT?

We often argue that we need more time, that we don’t have enough time, that our work would have been better if we had more time. But there is a need for deadlines, and restrictions have their place. Having unlimited resources, budget, and time may sound like a dream project, but with no goal post it can be tough to focus. Constraints force us to focus on the goal. The tougher the restrictions, the more creative we have to be.

Here’s an exercise to demonstrate the power of constraints:

  1. Pick one task you need to do this week: a blog post, a chapter of a book, something you’re cooking, some photos you have to edit, something that requires more creativity or thought than “dropping off the recycling” or “buying groceries.” (On the other hand, if you needed to save time, you could try ordering groceries online instead and see how it works out for you!)
  2. For whatever activity you choose, guesstimate how long it will take you. Give yourself half of that time to finish it. Impossible? See what happens. 
  3. Pick another task & give yourself 25% of the time you think you need to finish it. I take no responsibility, however,  if you attempt to cook a chicken in 30 minutes and make yourself sick.

One way this sometimes works for me is that I just get it done. An article I think will take me 5-6 hours and I only have 2? It’s got to be more focused, so I spend more time up front outlining what I need to write. Whereas usually when I have more time, I go slowly, letting any semi-related thought into an early draft, only to be edited out later.

Another thing that happens is that I don’t get it all done. I sat down to edit all ten billion of my photos from India tonight, and I only made it through 3 days of the trip. Oh well. But still: I made it through three days & I can share those with friends & family, versus before when I was waiting until I happened to have a spare eight hours. A spare eight hours does not accidentally happen, at least not to me. So now, instead of endlessly postponing a task & feeling guilty about it, I have some amount of progress, however small. A dent is a dent.

 

SUMMARY

Websites can be designed & built in 24 hours. Design challenges to improve cities can be attacked in a weekend. A magazine can be produced in 48 hours or on opposite sides of the world. Whatever constraints are facing you are offering focus. Instead of assuming they’re hindering you, remember they’re there to help you progress.

Exciting Idea Magazine Addition: Help with Hiring

idea-logo-whiteIf you’ve tried hiring people in the tech industry lately, you know what a tough and competitive market it is right now.

Idea Magazine wants to help.

Today we’re opening up a limited amount of job listings for our inaugural issue launching December 8th. We’re not interested in posting bulk ads with hidden company names. We’re not interested in posting vague descriptions of what someone might be doing. We’re not interested in posting ads for interns to work for free. We’re not interested in posting ads for companies hiring you so they can outsource your skills.

Here’s what we ARE interested in: we want to connect great people to great startups & tech companies. And we think the best way to do that is by being transparent and helping you find each other.

Our job listings cost only 35 Euros each and are featured in both the website and the magazine itself. This is a great deal as it delivers your ad to a very targeted audience of people interested and working in technology in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

We will be selective about which job listings we post so that a) they’re not overwhelming for the readers and b) your job has a chance to stand out.

You have the chance to make your position stand out – jobs will contain the below information so that the candidates contacting you will understand the requirements and be excited about joining your team.

To get your startup job posted in the first issue of Idea Magazine, launching December 8th, fill in the form here: http://readidea.wufoo.com/forms/idea-magazine-startup-job-ads 

Feedback on our job listings? Let us know! Email martha [at] readidea.com.

 

SAMPLE JOB LISTINGS:

Blue Pony Media

Graphic Designer, Advanced

Skills required:

Strong graphic design and logo design skills, Photoshop & Illustrator

What you’ll be working on:

You’ll be working with our publishing and media clients to help them design beautiful and appropriate designs and logos for their interactive applications. Understanding an organisation’s vision and helping them to realise that is a big part of this role.

Why our company rocks:

Blue Pony Media is an award-winning media agency, creating interactive applications which delight people everywhere. We are very picky about which customers we take on to make sure to make sure we are proud of the work we do. Blue Pony Media values talented designers and developers and our extremely low turnover rate is proof of that. We’re located in Wicklow, but for the right designer, we’re open to a remote work option.

Blue Pony Media is a mature company with 10-20 employees.
To apply or for more information see: http://omgponies.com/jobs

SuperCrazy Games

XNA Developer, Beginner/Intermediate

Skills required:

C#, XNA, Physics libraries such as Farseer would be a nice-to-have

What you’ll be working on:

You’ll be taking our concepts and turning them into interactive, playable mobile games. Building on top of our internally created animation foundation, you have the tools you need to iterate quickly and be creative. Our games run on PCs and Windows Phone 7 but we’re also building an environment to distribute our games through Xbox Live very soon.

Why our company rocks:

As a small but busy games studio, we’re turning the mobile games industry on its head. We’re agile and creative, so this is your chance to get in early and impact the future of mobile games by helping us create unique, viral concepts. We take fun very seriously, and our office is located in a developer hub in Galway so there’s plenty of excitement around. We believe in working flexible hours and doing anything we can (like bringing in lunch and providing you with the latest mobile devices) to help you focus on exciting projects.

SuperCrazy Games is a Startup company with 1-10 employees.
To apply or for more information see: http://wearesupercrazygames.com/jobs

A New Idea

Idea Magazine

For a place with such an amazing tech community of developers, designers, startups, entrepreneurs and just plain “do-ers”, it’s shockingly hard to know what’s going on all the time with the Irish technology scene. The most effective way to find out about interesting startups, new technologies, cool design studios, great places to work, upcoming events, testing techniques, great new fonts, etc. is usually an impromptu meetup with a fellow geek.

When I moved to Dublin four-and-a-half years ago I spent a lot of money on technology magazines, from Ireland and abroad, to find out what was going on (still do – I am a magazine junkie). Foreign magazines always had cool profiles of interesting people, tutorials on things that are new and might be useful techniques, list of stuff that was going on and things to get involved with.

I rarely read about anything interesting happening in Ireland. <sadFace/>

But at the same time, I was constantly blown away by unique companies being created here. Things like Build (happening this week in Belfast for the third year!), Coder Dojo (happening every weekend now!), 24theWeb (2nd annual event happened a couple of weeks ago!), that are all creative and beautifully executed initiatives. Studios that turn out gorgeous websites and mobile applications. People turning industries on their heads.

AUGH! AREN’T YOU SO FREAKING PROUD OF IT ALL?!

But there’s no platform for talking about it yet. Existing publications write about global gadgets & popular “apps you need now!” They cover huge sales deals. They publish bland PR for big brands. It’s time for something new.

 

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO

image

I’d like to introduce Idea Magazine. Idea Magazine is a brand new, bi-monthly digital magazine by and for the tech scene of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We’ll be launching on December 8th with our first issue available online for free.

Idea Magazine aims to highlight startups and technology created in Ireland and Northern Ireland, along with excellent design, educational programs and training, investment and business-related information of interest to the tech community. Things like “Which accelerator program has the best terms”, “What should you know about patenting your software”, “Tips for increasing customer engagement in web apps”, “Which tech events are happening next month”, and much more will be covered in Idea Magazine.

Together with the incredibly talented Stewart Curry as Design Director, we have an excellent team working together to make sure we are covering interesting, relevant and useful topics for you, the tech community. If you have suggestions or things you’d like to see in future issues of Idea Magazine, please feel free to contact me at martha [at] readidea.com.

 

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?

If you’re interested in learning more, you can go to (the very lovely and responsive) http://readidea.com & sign up for our newsletter today or follow us on Twitter at @readidea. Our launch is only a month away, so we’re busy getting our content and new platform ready for you.

I’d love your feedback and suggestions any time & look forward to creating an outstanding magazine for an outstanding community.

Newsstand on an iPad

Tuesday Newsday: The iOS5 Newsstand

Apple NewsstandWhen iOS5 features were shown earlier this year at Apple’s WWDC, Newsstand was one of the most interesting and talked about ideas. Now that iOS5 is live, it’s time to give it a test drive and see if it meets publishers’ expectations.

Apple describes Newsstand as “A custom newsstand for all your subscriptions.” Newsstand is more of a wood panel folder than an app on your device. Opening Newsstand on your device will reveal any magazine or newspaper apps you have downloaded. Alerts should tell you when new issues arrive, and a blue banner should go across issues you haven’t yet read. New covers should automatically update in the background. This hasn’t been the case for me, however, my covers only seem to update when I launch the title, prompting a new download and a cover update.Newsstand on iPad

 

UPDATED COVERS

As I mention above, my covers aren’t updating in the background by themselves (maybe it’s a first-gen iPad thing?). But there is something very nice about giving publishers the freedom to not be restricted to a square icon for their cover. Magazines and newspapers each have a very different feel for their cover pages, so I love how, for example, Once Magazine’s cover shows up in landscape mode, The New York Times looks like a NYT cover, and National Geographic has its own familiar branding.Newsstand on iPad

It feels a little weird that tapping that cover, for many magazines (not for news apps like The Daily and The New York Times), takes you not directly into the issue you just clicked, but rather into the magazine’s app where you can purchase or download more titles. I ran into a lot of crashing bugs as I was reviewing and problems where every time I opened the app I had to re-download the current issue. I’m hoping these will get sorted out soon.Inside a magazine's app

 

HOW DO I ADD NEW MAGAZINES OR NEWSPAPERS?

Newsstand in the App StoreDon’t yet have anything in your newsstand? You can get new magazines and newspapers by clicking the small “Store” button when you open the Newsstand folder, or you can visit the App Store. You can click on Categories->Newsstand or click the giant Newsstand banner on the front page to see all of your choices.  Selection isn’t amazing just yet, but it’s new so I imagine a lot of publishers are still finalizing and testing their apps. You can get the bigger, hyped apps like The Daily, The New York Times, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest and other titles. More will trickle in every week.Newsstand in the App Store

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Newsstand strikes me as an odd name for this. Newsstands in airports and train stations are always bad news for my wallet. I constantly find new titles, spot an eye-catching headline and buy magazines I haven’t heard of. My iPad Newsstand, however, is a small collection of stuff I already have spent money on. There isn’t any serendipitous finding of exciting new authors or insights. It’s subtle, but this is more like my bedside table or magazine rack in my office. A newsstand, to me, is an exciting place with opportunities for discovery (and, as I mentioned, dropping lots of cash).Genius for Newsstand? Why Not?

What would be more interesting for me (and cause me to spend more money) would be if there were an element of “You liked reading The New York Times recently, why not try The Guardian for iPad?”, ala Amazon recommendations. Maybe each time I open up the Newsstand there are suggestions or notices about new titles or new issues. Right now it’s cumbersome and when I do make the effort, there just really isn’t that much I want to read.  So perhaps as new titles are added to the collection it will improve. I will wait and see. I do think they’re missing a trick by making it a good five or six clicks to find something new to buy, though.

 

SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

It’s barely a week old, so it seems a bit early to expect that Newsstand presence would make a dent in anyone’s numbers. At the same time, I mentioned there aren’t many folks there so early adopters always have an advantage of more eyeballs sooner.

Strangely enough, I notice I see barely anything in the Newsstand Store on my iPad and iPhone, maybe 20 titles max. But if I look at Newsstand on iTunes on my desktop, it lists many more titles. Perhaps there’s some admin work happening to make more things visible in the device stores soon.

Future Publishing seems to be happy with the numbers so far anyway. They launched more than 50 titles last week and have seen more than two million downloads in the four days they’ve been live.

There are plenty of app store analytics services you can use to track opens, downloads, subscriptions. I don’t know if any of these have been enhanced (or shut down) with the launch of Newsstand, so I will take a look and find out. A huge downside to publishers using the App Store is the lack of information about subscribers and customers. If Apple doesn’t assist with this problem, there will likely be more publishers going the way of the Financial Times and building web apps to maintain better relationships with their audience.

 

HOW TO GET MORE READERS

One of the toughest things for consumers reading magazines on an iPad is knowing whether they’re actually going to enjoy reading it or whether they’ll look at it once, find it awkward or unusable, and never open it again. A great editorial team also requires a great tech team to make it work. An excellent idea which many successful titles do is a free sample download so you can understand their app and content. Wired does, National Geographic does, Project does, and hopefully most news and magazine apps will move in this direction soon.Once Magazine Sample Issue

Another thing to consider is offering less choices. In a project I worked on recently, we had a lot of discussions about price points. We ended up with two options, a monthly and an annual subscription. A surprisingly high number of people opted immediately for the cheaper-in-the-long-run annual subscription. The more choices you offer the more you will confuse your customer, so pick one or two good value options and stick with them.

 

SUMMARY

The best thing about Newsstand for publishers is that it puts a reminder on the screen of every iOS device to read, subscribe, check out news and magazines. There are a lot more optimizations Apple can and should make to help publishers sell more subscriptions such as recommendations and a “genius” type of search tool in the Newsstand section of the App Store. With numbers like Future has reported, good things are in store for publishers using Newsstand.

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.

 

BUSINESS CLASS NEWS: THE BOSTON GLOBE

The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe made headlines last week with their beautiful new premium news site, http://www.bostonglobe.com.  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, http://www.boston.com, shown below, remains in place and is free.

 

Current version of www.boston.com

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.

BostonGlobe.com on iPad   BostonGlobe.com 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.

  BostonGlobe.com on iPhone  BostonGlobe.com on iPhone  BostonGlobe.com 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.

 

FREQUENT USER PAYWALL: THE NEW YORK TIMES

NYTimes.com Front Page

In March of this year, the New York Times site http://nytimes.com 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 nytimes.com

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, http://www.nytimes.com reported over 48 million unique visitors.  Once the pay wall went up in March, visits to http://www.nytimes.com 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.

 

BLENDING FREE AND PAID: THE ATLANTIC

                    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 http://theatlantic.com and http://www.theatlanticwire.com. 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.

 

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

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 http://theonion.com 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 BostonGlobe.com, 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

 

READ MORE: 

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

 

1) SOURCE YOUR CONTENT

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.

 

2) SOURCE YOUR ART/IMAGERY

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.

 

3) CREATE A NEW HTML FILE FOR EACH ARTICLE

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:
<!– PASTE CONTENT BELOW THIS LINE –>
<!– PASTE CONTENT ABOVE THIS LINE –>
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: http://martharotter.com/blog/index.php/2011/09/cs-forum-2011-my-workshop-slides-content/.  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>”

 

4) STYLE USING AN HTML EDITOR

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.

 

5) RESIZE IMAGES IF NECESSARY AND EDIT IMAGE TAGS

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:

<figure>
    <img data-sizes=”single” src=”
img/headshot-200.jpg
width=”280″ height=”130″ />
    <img data-sizes=”double” data-src=”headshot-600.jpg”
width=”600″ height=”280″ />
</figure>

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

 

6) EDIT THE TOC 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>
</div>

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.

 

7) UPLOAD TO SERVER

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.

 

I REALLY MEANT “BRIEF OVERVIEW”

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.

 

WHERE ARE THE TOOLS?

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.

 

SUMMARY

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: http://martharotter.com/csforum/ts/index.html.  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 http://martharotter.com/csforum 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, http://treesaverjs.com & http://groups.google.com/group/treesaverjs?pli=1 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 Audible.com.  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

THE NEW YORKER

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

MCSWEENEY’S

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.

 

ONE LAST THING

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.

Tuesday Newsday: Worldwide News Sites

This week I’ve done an analysis of how news sites worldwide approach apps and mobile web sites. To get some variety, I’ve chosen The New York Times, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Irish Times and The Onion.  If there’s a worldwide news site or app you’d like to see reviewed, just let me know and I’ll do a follow-up post with additional news sites in the future.

For those who want the quick version, I have a table below showing how the sites and apps compare in certain areas:

News Source Mobile-friendly website iPad App iPhone app Other apps Pay wall
           
New York Times sort of – m.nytimes.com jumps you to regular site on tablet; works on phones yes yes Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7 & Palm Pre; Also Kindle & Nook yes, after reading a certain number of articles
The Guardian yes – m.guardian.co.uk not for news (it’s a photo viewing app) yes Nokia and HP TouchPad apps; Also Kindle and a Flipboard channel currently no; rumoured to be considering one
Al Jazeera yes – m.aljazeera.net yes – live news stream & news headlines yes, live viewing of video news only Android, Blackberry, Nokia, and Samsung Bada; unofficial WP7 no
The Irish Times yes – m.irishtimes.com yes but you must buy individual copies yes, ePaper for $1.99 Android, Nokia, had one previously, removed in 2008
The Onion not really, m.theonion.com resolves but isn’t any more mobile-friendly yes yes Android & Kindle, unofficial WP7 Testing one currently: users must subscribe after reading five articles in 30 days

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

[For a wonderful non-mobile browser-based reading experience of the NY Times, read my previous article on the Ochs extension for Chrome and give it a try.] 

Visiting http://m.nytimes.com on an iPad redirects you to the full NY Times, whereas on an iPhone and a Windows Phone 7 you are taken to a more mobile-friendly site. It doesn’t matter that much, actually, because when you click into an article on the iPad, you get a big enough view to read, whereas the main page and category pages have quick small text and tiny navigation which is hard to use without pinching and zooming frequently.

NY Times website on iPad   NY Times website on iPhone

The NY Times iPad app is much nicer, although only the top news is free.  To get access to additional content, the app has in-app subscription options of either NYTimes.com + Tablet app for $19.99/month or the all digital access for $34.99/month.  Without the subscription, you see all categories locked as shown.  When you click on them, they show you the section’s front page, but trying to read the article gives you a subscribe prompt popup. The top news is nicely laid out, though, and the paging navigation inside the articles is nice to read.  Occasional but nice-looking ads might pop up as you’re reading but they are easily closed.  Another nice feature of the iPad app is the ability to set Offline Reading preferences so that articles are automatically downloaded for offline reading & images are cached.

   NY Times iPad App Menu   NY Times iPad App Article View

The NY Times iPhone app is the same content as the iPad app, with the addition of a bottom navigation bar allowing you to see the most e-mailed articles as well as those articles, sections and blogs you’ve marked as favourites. As you read, the navigation goes away so you have more space to read. As with the iPad app, some ads may pop up but they’re nicely done and not annoying.

NYT iPhone App Article View NYT iPhone App Article View (no nav) NYT iPhone App Ad

The Windows Phone 7 app for the NY Times is similar to the iPhone app, with top content available but digital subscription required to read additional articles or other sections.  The only other differences I noticed were that the WP7 app doesn’t have advertising embedded in the app, and in the iPhone app you can only increase text size, not decrease it, whereas WP7 lets you select small, medium, large or huge text.

NYT WP7 App Top News    NYT WP7 App Article View

 

THE GUARDIAN

The Guardian officially launched their newspaper website in 1999, and in 2008 it became the first UK newspaper website to break 20 million unique users per month. They have a very thorough page explaining their mobile capabilities here http://www.guardian.co.uk/mobile as well as a frequently updated blog about the changes they’re working on here http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/insideguardian.  Although they have an iPad app called The Guardian Eyewitness, it is a photography display app and not a newspaper app.  They do have a news-focused iPad app currently in the works, and you can see previews of it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/insideguardian/2011/jul/11/kindle-ipad-android.  The article states it was a completely new redesign and indeed it looks very interesting.

The Guardian Eyewitness on App Store   The Guardian iPhone Splash Screen

The Guardian’s mobile website, http://m.guardian.co.uk, shows the top three stories from several sections and lets you browse to different sections, mark favourite sections, and search. There isn’t a limit on content you can read as there’s no pay wall, but as mentioned in the table above, they are rumoured to be considering one.

Guardian Mobile Website

The Guardian’s iPhone app is a slightly nicer experience than the mobile website.  The look and feel is similar, with the top stories from various sections on the main page. They have also added a Trending and a Multimedia tab to show, respectively, the top ten trending stories and subjects in the last 24 hours and a video, audio and photo gallery.  Additionally you can add favourite stories as well as sections.

The Guardian iPhone App Front Page  The Guardian iPhone App Trending page

One of the slightly annoying things about Windows Phone 7 is that when you’re browsing the Marketplace for apps, it can be very difficult to tell which ones are official and which ones are just some random developer. You have to click on the app and scroll to the bottom to see who is listed as the developer.  In the case of the Guardian, there is no official app, but the Guardian Newsreader grabs content from their site and populates a basic WP7 app which actually looks decent and works quite well.

WP7 Marketplace Search for Guardian

 

AL JAZEERA

Al Jazeera’s mobile website gets it so right for phones. The front page shows simply one large top story and three sub-stories, followed by a list of their categories.  Click on “In Depth” in the navigation bar to get various sections such as Opinion, Features, Spotlight, etc. Click on “Watch” in the navigation bar to watch or listen to live coverage from their television channel.  Very simple, but contains all the types of things a reader would want in an easy-to-use mobile website.  The mobile site on a tablet leaves a bit to be desired, as it doesn’t really take advantage of the screen real estate, but it’s still just as usable and effective.

Al Jazeera Mobile Website Front Page Al Jazeera Mobile Website Article View Al Jazeera Mobile Website Article View

The Al Jazeera iPad app takes an interesting approach to the front page. It starts with a live stream of the video channel and updates from Twitter feeds. From there, users can click on “News” to see the front page of the website (basically the exact same as the regular website), “In Depth” which is the In Depth page from the website (again, almost exactly the same) and “Blogs” which is the Blogs page from the website.  The video feed is fantastic and works great.  The other pages could maybe be tailored a bit, more in the style of the mobile website as readers will end up doing a lot of pinching, zooming and panning to read the content.

Al Jazeera iPad App Live Video Feed    Al Jazeera iPad App In Depth Page

On the iPhone and Windows Phone 7, the app is mostly just the live video feed. The iPhone app uses similar navigation to the mobile website, so you can still click on “News” and “In Depth” to see top stories there. I couldn’t find an English version of the Windows Phone 7 app, the one there streams the live Arabic coverage. The front page is quite strange and just has links to the video feed and the website, where the website link opens up a browser window to see the normal site instead of the mobile site which is strange.

 

Al Jazeera iPhone App Splash Screen   Al Jazeera iPad App Front Page

Al Jazeera iPhone App Live Video Feed   Al Jazeera Windows Phone 7 App Splash Screen

 

THE IRISH TIMES

The mobile website for the Irish Times works fine on a phone, but it’s a bit oddly formatted on a tablet.  On a tablet, you’re probably better off going to the regular website and using pinch/zoom to read and browse. On a phone, the site works better. The front page has the top three stories from several different categories with some thumbnails. Reading the individual articles is pleasant and focused, even if it’s mostly text.  The website is plain but it’s functional and easy-to-use.

Irish Times Mobile Website

The iPad app for the Irish Times, called the Irish Times ePaper, is where their mobile experience falls over.  Downloading the app is free, and you can download one free issue of a daily edition. Additional papers to download require a subscription which forces you to register with The Irish Times and then go to a website which has you select a subscription plan, either a single issue, 1 month, 3 months or annual. The whole thing is strange because I thought Apple were forcing in-app purchases and subscriptions, that is, the ability to purchase new issues or subscriptions from within the app, to happen via the App Store. I know they reversed the harsher terms from February, but I thought it still applied to purchases which happen inside the app?

Irish Times iPad App Subscription Page   Irish Times Subscription Options on website

The reason I mention this is that the process for going through the Irish Times registration, selecting a subscription plan and entering payment details is quite tedious. I’m sure they don’t want to lose the 30% cut to Apple, but I actually think the App Store ease-of-use would help them sell more and make up for the revenue Apple deducts.

Anyway it actually won’t matter much because once you download your trial copy you’ll be hesitant to spend any additional money. It feels like looking at microfiche at the library. It’s a giant image of the actual pages of the print newspaper, ads, crossword puzzles, classifieds and all. There is weird hyperlink behaviour which automatically highlights any clickable text (such as an article title) in blue, and clicking that text pops up an overlay with the content of the article or blurb inside it.  Reading these articles is okay, you navigate by swiping left and right as if they were pages, but it has some strange sharing options like “Print in Text” and “Print in Graphics” along with the regular Email/Twitter/Facebook options.

Irish Times iPad App Daily Issue View   Irish Times iPad App Article Sharing Options

One thing I haven’t seen anywhere else, however, is the ability to have an article read to you. Click the small headphones icon on an article and an computerized Irish voice will read the article to you.  However when you close the article, the voice continues talking and the only way I could get it to stop reading was by opening another article.

Irish Times iPad Article View with Audio Option   Irish Times iPad App Zoomed In

I get the feeling this technology, whatever they’ve used to create this, was some sort of knee jerk reaction to someone deciding “WE NEED AN IPAD APP NOW!” To me, it’s a poor compromise of wanting to have an app quickly  and wanting to make sure all the content is there, but the readability, searchability, image quality and usability unfortunately all suffer here. I don’t know what their digital subscriber numbers are for this app, but I would be surprised if many people are able to read a newspaper in this format on a daily basis.

Irish Times iPad Zoomed In Fuzzy Imagery   Irish Times iPad App Article View with Navigation

Now let’s look at their iPhone app.  The iPhone app is basic, works great and seems like a much more thought-through approach to a mobile application. Its navigation bar has a Home, a Sport, a Business and a Latest News section, as well as a More tab which shows weather, podcasts (podcasts buttons take you to iTunes, they don’t play inside the app) and most read articles.  Ability to change text size, share articles, and navigate to the next article all work very well.  The articles seem to be text only while some of the section pages have thumbnails, but in the same way only the section pages have ads so no ads clutter your reading experience. Like the mobile website, the iPhone app is basic but usable. And for many users of news apps on phones, it’s the functionality and usability that are most important.

Irish Times iPhone App Front Page  Irish Times iPhone App Latest News  Irish Times iPhone App Article View

 

Literally Unbelievable

THE ONION

America’s Finest News Source has been one of my favourite news sites ever since discovering it during college (and that was way before http://literallyunbelievable.org/ was on the scene).  I have been impressed over the years at their willingness to try new strategies and new technology so readily.  Their current experiment, which they’re getting some slack for, is a pay wall for foreign readers (i.e., readers outside the US) who view more than five articles per month.  Their CTO says it truly is an experiment in which they’re looking for reader feedback and that nothing is set in stone.  Their digital subscriber numbers, however, suggest that it may in fact stick around. Readers pay $2.49 on the Kindle store for a monthly subscription, and they’re number five in the newspaper category there, which means they definitely have a loyal fan base of people willing to pay to access their articles.

The Onion iPad App Front Page   The Onion iPad App Refresh Screen

Since their mobile website isn’t much to talk about, let’s start with their iPad app.  The iPad app is a fantastic app which has a lot of their great content  laid out in a familiar, Flipboard-like style. One of the things that The Onion get very right is advertising. Articles may have small banner ads at the end, but the only time you see anything larger than that is when you click the “Refresh” button: it shows you a half-page ad while you wait for new content to update. I saw one other advertorial as I was browsing images, but it was so well done it was not obvious that it was an ad. The video and photo integration is excellent and it’s easy to spend a lot of time in both sections. The only thing I could think of that I would have liked in this app was the ability to view different sections without searching, to click and see all the Commentary or the Infographics or Statshots or Local News.  The only sections categorized are Latest News, Videos, Images and Sports. But it’s a great app and has one of the most capable sharing mechanisms I’ve seen including Pinboard, Tumblr, Instapaper and several other sharing apps.

The Onion iPad App Video View   The Onion iPad App Article Sharing Options

The iPhone app is similarly great, and perfectly adapted for the smaller screen. Instead of the gridded, Flipboard-style interface, it’s lists of articles and some small thumbnails.  The iPhone app has a bit more sections to navigate, including Twitter, Voices, Audio, Images, Opinion, Horoscopes and more.  You can save up to 25 articles as favourites or to read later, and the sharing options are a more regular email/Facebook/Twitter.

The Onion iPhone App News Section   The Onion iPhone App Video View

Again, on Windows Phone 7, I’m not sure if “Crazy Hot Solutions” is the most official Onion app to get, but they offer both a free and a paid version of The Onion (paid app removes the ads). The panorama scrolling is nice and shows popular stories, breaking news, video and radio news. The app is nice if slightly less polished than some of the others, but it also has a few interesting features like customizing the colour, turning on a profanity filter, and live tile customization.

 

SUMMARY

It’s quite obvious that news sites who think about the use cases and likely situations of their readers end up designing a better, more usable application and/or mobile website. Those that don’t who simply end up building a frame to shove their existing web content into, offer very little value to their customers, whether those customers are paying or not.

The New York Times digital subscriber numbers suggest that people will not be afraid to pay for access to the content they want. It will be interesting to watch what happens with The Onion’s pay wall experiment and The Guardian’s attempt at creating one.

[NOTE: There currently is not a way to take screenshots with Windows Phone 7, so those photos were taken of the phone itself; apologies if they’re hard to read or fuzzy.]