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.



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.



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 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…




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


“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.



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.



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.

Tuesday Newsday: Newspaper Developer Blogs

A common trait of successful online news and magazine sites is, surprisingly, a developer blog. Think of a developer blog as a look into the minds of the people building the site: what limitations they have, what they’re working on, what they believe their readers want or need, success stories of how they built interesting things, and even day-to-day tidbits that remind readers that the site is built by thinking, feeling people instead of a faceless entity.

  • I’ve heard many excuses for not wanting to have a developer blog:
    “Who would update the thing? Our team is busy!”
    No one wants to read stuff like this, they want to read the news.”
    We absolutely cannot publish this information, it’s secret. What if someone were to copy us?!”
    We’re developers, not writers. We wouldn’t know what to say.”
    Taking the time to write blog posts takes us away from being able to build the technology our team needs.”
    The list goes on and on.

But for teams who do make the effort to create and update developer blogs, the rewards are great. I’m going to walk through some of the benefits of creating a developer blog for your site, using excellent existing blogs as examples of how to do this well.



I believe very strongly that the best way to learn something yourself is to teach others and share your knowledge. This has become apparent to me from many directions including mentoring, teaching, writing tutorials, giving talks and training others. I always learn more each time I share with others.

This industry moves so quickly. Suggestions on things that work and things that don’t as well as best practices and “how to” articles are invaluable for people. A solid “why we did it this way” or “the fastest way to do x” type of article can save other developers a great deal of time and make them eternally grateful to you.  Google recently changed their Maps API Terms of Service, causing a lot of confusion. Chris Keller from Madison.com wrote about the changes and narrowed down the important bits for others affected by the change.

Madison.com Labs

At The Chicago Tribune, the team is not just interested in educating itself and its blog readers, but also the community. Joe Germuska blogs about his presentation to Hacks/Hackers Chicago in October, posting his slides and sites he referenced throughout his talk.

Chicago Tribune News Apps



It might not happen all the time, but occasionally your team may create new applications or methods of doing things which are so valuable they’re worth selling or licensing. In 2005, The Lawrence Journal-World newspaper from Kansas released an open source tool called the Django web framework, and they ended up spinning out a software division to sell their customized CMS now called Ellington CMS. A CMS coming from a media organization is a huge deal, since every media team I talk to vehemently hates their CMS.

Ellington CMS

The ProPublica News Apps team released a new feature earlier this month called DocDiver, and they announced this on their “ProPublica Nerd Blog.” The blog post included how it works, why they built it, and nerdy details on how it works. The project was built on top of the NYT DocumentViewer app and expands on that open source project.

ProPublica Nerd Blog



Recognition and respect are two of the most important things you can help your team members achieve. Developers and technologists who feel appreciated are more likely to stick around, work harder and be more loyal employees. Industry recognition for your team circles back to help your organization improve its image as well.

The Chicago Tribune has built a large collection of applications on Github which are available for others to view & fork: https://github.com/newsapps.

Chicago Tribune News Apps

Last week, Poynter.org published an article by Matt Thompson on why journalists should be ‘showing their work’ while they create and learn. He mentions paying it forward, building data literacy, increasing the impact of your work and more.




The worst thing that can happen to an industry is that it stagnates and no innovation occurs. Developer blogs are the perfect way to share your disruptive ideas with others who might be interested in doing something similar or building off of your idea.

My favourite example of this this year is from a Maine newspaper, The Bangor Daily News. Tired of a typically clunky workflow which involved a lot of cutting-and-pasting, the team built a new workflow out of Google Docs and WordPress. The Bangor Daily News dev blog is here: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/.  You can read more about their new workflow here: http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/how-to-run-a-news-site-and-newspaper-using-wordpress-and-google-docs_b4781.  And here’s a short video showing the process:




What if you had a whole community of individuals you could get to give you input, suggestions, or even build things with your data and resources? Think of how much more you could achieve.

The Guardian’s Data Blog has done exactly that. A very active blog, The Guardian Data Blog releases new sets of data constantly in raw form. Sometimes they’ve been able to build charts or interactions to tell a story with it, and sometimes they simply provide the data. At the end of each article, they ask “Can you do something with this data?” and ask people to contact them or post visualizations on their Flickr page. 

The Guardian Data Blog

The result is a fascinating body of work, which is much more diverse having community input, and is definitely larger than what The Guardian could have produced on its own. That kind of interaction and dedication by a community makes your site and publication much more interesting and valuable.

The Guardian Data Blog Flickr Pool



My dad used to tell me, “It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it.” If your team has built something amazing, solved a really tough problem, or tried something crazy (even if it was a colossal failure!), why not tell the world? The New York Times launched its “beta620” labs project this year, and the site is specifically for trying out wacky ideas and experimenting. So far they have created some projects which are simply experiments they’ve learned from. But they’ve also created products like the Times Skimmer, which end up as full-fledged products in the main site or in their mobile apps.

The New York Times beta620



We all know hiring good developers, designers, UX designers, content strategists and other technology positions is tough and getting tougher. People want to work for respected organizations doing interesting things. Advertising for free on your developer blog that you’re using new technology or being creative is a wonderful way to help the right people find their way to you.

At The Guardian, they have been hosting “Guardian Hack Days” and “Developer drop-ins” this year, both of which help expose their team and technology to potentially excellent candidates for future hiring. A developer looking for his or her next role would find articles like these very telling about office culture, priorities and work ethic, all things which are near impossible to discover in an interview.

The Guardian Dev Blog



If you’re considering creating a developer blog for your news or magazine application, be sure to keep an eye on the following blogs which are great examples of how to write, teach, influence and share well:

ProPublica Nerd Blog :: http://www.propublica.org/nerds 
Bangor Daily News Dev Blog :: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/
Data Journalism Blog :: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/blog/
LA Times Data Desk :: http://projects.latimes.com/index/ 
Madison.com Labs Blog :: http://labs.madison.com/blog/
beta620 from The New York Times :: http://beta620.nytimes.com/ 
The Guardian Data Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog
Guardian Developer Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/developer-blog
Chicago Tribune News Apps :: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/


Tuesday Newsday: Facebook News Apps

Facebook News AppsIn the last month we’ve had some news sources trying an unconventional method of reaching new audiences: Facebook. “Go where your readers live” is the message of news applications within Facebook, and there is certainly no shortage of people who spend a significant amount of time checking in on Facebook throughout the day, whether it is to update their own account or to see what’s going on with their friends and other businesses/events they follow.  Today we’re looking at a few of these Facebook-integrated news apps, including WSJ Social by the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post Social Reader, and The Guardian on Facebook.



For companies who need advertising revenue and care deeply about page impressions, length-of-time-on-site and other metrics to share with their advertisers, going to an external site and creating a [free] presence there seems like an odd strategy. But there are a few things Facebook offers companies who want to build a reader on top of their platform. First of all, regarding ad revenue, all is not lost. Facebook can sell ad positions around the app just like any of their other content or pages. However any ads appearing inside the app itself are revenue for the app creators. Secondly, the sharing and social nature of Facebook allows extra, free publicity. Readers can easily share and recommend articles to their friends who may not be regular readers of the publication and may take an interest, check out the article, subscribe, etc. Basically Facebook provides a large population of actively sharing, potential readers.

And news sites need to care about where their readers are. Nielsen published a report in September showing where Americans spend their time online. While social network sites like Facebook checked in at 22.5%, reading current events and global news was a paltry 2.6% of overall Internet time.

Subscription costs and pay walls are still important revenue concepts for news sites. While all of the apps discussed below are free, it remains to be seen if they all stay that way. The WSJ Social indicates on their site that content is currently free for an undisclosed limited time, courtesy of their launch sponsor (Dell).  As all three apps have links on each article to view it on the original site, I’m not sure what happens if you do that and run into a pay wall.


WSJ Social on Facebook


WSJ Social launched about a month ago, right before Facebook’s developer conference F8. Unlike other Facebook news apps like The Washington Post Social Reader, The WSJ Social was a Wall Street Journal-only project, not initiated or otherwise influenced by Facebook itself. The Wall Street Journal have made all content from wsj.com available on WSJ Social, which is surprising to some, considering their pay wall and subscription charges.

Clicking on the WSJ Social app takes you to a Flipboard-style grid layout of articles, showing titles, images, icons of friends who may have read the article, and comment / like counts. On the left you have a column of your “Top Editors.” Clicking on the Help & Information Center tells you that in WSJ Social, you and your friends are editors, and your top editors can be anyone you have chosen to add to your editor list, whether or not they are your Facebook friends. Clicking the plus and minus buttons adds and removes editors, respectively.

WSJ Social : Article View

The article view is quite similar to the regular web view, albeit a little less cluttered. It’s a cleaner feel, and a distinct lack of “What’s popular today” and “Most discussed articles” type of content blocks. You’ll see comments left by other Facebook users, and have the opportunity to post comments to both the article and your own Facebook feed.




Washington Post Social Reader on Facebook


The Washington Post Social Reader pulls its stories both from its  http://www.washingtonpost.com front page as well as its content partners including The Associated Press, Reuters, Mashable, GlobalPost, etc. Every person will see something different on the front page of the app, as the stories shown reflect a user’s profile and likes as well as stories read and liked by friends.

The top of the app is comfortable to read, showing a headline story and two other top stories. What follows are two columns of article headlines, images and short descriptions, along with the article source and timestamp. They show a small box on the right of trending stories, and on the left they show a column featuring what friends are reading or have read. This column, powered by Trove, feels redundant, because at the same time you have Facebook’s column on the far right telling you what your friends are doing with apps right at this moment.

Washington Post Social Reader : Article View

Viewing articles is a similar experience to reading articles with the WSJ Social. The article is generally a cleaner version of the one on their site and has less distractions, advertisements and unrelated content boxes. You can leave comments on the article and your own Facebook wall.


The Guardian on Facebook


The Guardian is no stranger to new and interesting approaches to sharing their content. Their app, which has the most users of the three, is a very different style and looks more like it is actually part of Facebook, possibly due to the colours and fonts used.

The Guardian on Facebook features an activity stream like the Washington Post Social Reader, showing what your friends have read recently. It has a 3-column box showing popular content right now, and a grid below of larger images showing articles people are commenting on most recently. Underneath that is an additional grid of latest features and links to other Guardian Facebook pages.

The Guardian on Facebook : Article View

Article views are again cleaner. They show links to other stories in the same category, followed by options to comment, recommend or alternately post your comment on The Guardian’s external site.



All three of these sites were able to reduce the amount of content shown to improve the usability of their Facebook app. Which leads me to believe they did some examining of what people are actually clicking and reading and what people value on the external sites. This is the same thing that Luke W talks about in his excellent “Mobile First” talk, this idea that if we take out all of these things that aren’t the priority and are left with something great, doesn’t that tell us something? Constraints force people to prioritize, and prioritizing your users means making a smaller set of more popular features better to use.

If you haven’t seen Luke’s presentation, you should both buy his book which just came out and take a look at his Mobile First presentation slides, specifically the section about “Constraints = Focus.”

Interestingly enough, I was able to view the apps fine from the browser on my iPad (not iPhone or Windows Phone 7  though), but none of them show up in the “Apps” view on the Facebook mobile apps for iPhone or iPad.



WSJ Social Users

Washington Post Social Users

The Guardian on Facebook Users

The Guardian reported their millionth Facebook app sign up over the last week and seems to be growing steadily. The Washington Post Social Reader and the WSJ Social, on the other hand, have a bit of a ways to go.

Michael Donohoe :: WP Social

Not every Facebook user is happy with the idea of sharing every article he or she reads, nor do friends necessarily want to see your detailing each story read. Privacy and tedium are both concerns here. Michael Donohoe has a great post here about what happens when your friends notice you are reading certain things.

Facebook App SettingsAs with many Facebook-related things, there are privacy controls so that users can block their friends seeing certain activities or stop an app from posting to their timeline, but they may not be incredibly obvious or easy to locate/use. It might be hours after your profile has shown that you’ve read a controversial article that you realize it was there, as it’s not always obvious what gets posted to your profile and what doesn’t. By that time, conservative colleagues will have already seen it. It depends how careful you are about locking down your Facebook profile and whether you care about others knowing what you’re reading.



Facebook’s huge push at F8 of both their Social Graph and news apps using Facebook mean we will see more and more of these types of apps, especially from media and news companies looking for new audiences. It will be interesting to see statistics on whether the “likes” and application users convert into subscriptions and/or traffic for the sites themselves. In the meantime I’d like to ask the news sites to consider that if the apps are in fact working well, maybe it’s worth taking some of the minimized design from the apps back to their own sites to see if it makes a difference.

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



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



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



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.



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.



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.



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: Digital-only News

We’ve looked at a lot of digital versions of their newspaper counterparts. Today instead we’re looking at news sources providing their content only online and not through any print formats.  I’m examining digital-only news sources The Daily, Newsy and New360.


The Daily Splash ScreenTHE DAILY

I was very excited for The Daily when it was announced. The first iPad-only news source, backed by Rupert Murdoch, the first Apple-endorsed app to use the new App Store subscription model – it seemed like this was going to change the way that people viewed digital news and open the door for paid subscriptions to news and magazine apps which at the time were struggling to find consumers willing to purchase digital subscriptions. And they needed paying subscribers (500,000 to be more precise): they have a large team and their own reporters/journalists so the content is original.

The Daily: Welcome Back ScreenBut the app was very heavy. The early versions crashed frequently and took a long time to download each day’s edition. There were bugs. It was slow. It crashed when it tried to detect my location (since I am outside the US). Every few days, the app would forget that I had a paid subscription & require me to sign up again, causing me to fear I was being charged multiple times. Eventually that annoyance and the focus on US news (there is still very little world news coverage except for very big stories) caused me to cancel my subscription.

The Daily: Front PageAt SND last week, I learned that The Daily has a team of 50 designers to help lay out each day’s issue by hand, 100 pages in total. And then they do it again in landscape mode. They have no automatic templates. They use Adobe tools the whole way through up until they need to put it into the CMS and then rebuild it there. To me, this whole process sounds like a nightmare. An unsustainable one at that.

The Daily: Interactive PageBut the pro of this painful process is that The Daily has absolute freedom to design however they want, something most publishers can’t do from either a financial or labour perspective. They can use things like Jamie Beck’s cinemagraphs. They can hand-code HTML5 animations and transitions when they run into CMS limitations. They have freedom to design and customize everything each day. That’s pretty amazing, and something I think a lot of publishers would appreciate, especially given that at every event I’ve been to this year, CMSs have been cited as painful and limiting software.

The Daily: Carousel View

With their creativity and design freedom, The Daily designers have experimented with many interesting ideas. They have a carousel of image pages to use for navigation, or you can use the navigation links at the bottom. They now do a brief video report for each edition describing the day’s stories. They have cool interactive features in certain articles allowing the user to play or respond to a survey or guess trivia. There’s a scroll bar at the top to move quickly around the issue and see thumbnails of stories.

The Daily Page Navigation ViewThe Daily reported last week that they have 80,000 paying subscribers. Although it’s not even 20% of what they will need to eventually break even, it’s still an impressive number, especially given that they launched only back in February. Perhaps they will streamline design to save money or perhaps the increase in iPad sales will spur further growth for them. For me, it’s an impressive design but not content I’m interested in. Plus it still crashes a lot for me.

The Daily: Article View

Someone at SND (I think Josh Clark?) that there could be room for a model where people select and pay for the news they want. If this were the case, I might opt to pay for the arts, tech and news sections. At least let me save the room on my iPad memory? After all, why force users to wait for the celebrity gossip section and sports section to download when they never intend to read those? It could be an interesting model to consider.


Newsy Splash ScreenNEWSY

The novel idea about Newsy is that it is video-only news. I couldn’t verify with certainty that it is the first video-only news site or app, but it’s the first one I have heard about. Newsy is multi-source and multi-platform, and it claims it is the only video news service that allows users to compare bias by highlighting nuances in reporting.

Newsy app versionsNewsy currently works on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry. Plus their website has all of their content as well.

Newsy Website Front Page

How does Newsy work? Newsy takes various reports on the same subject, from sources like MSNBC, ABC, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, etc., and produces short, professional video clips highlighting common and disparate views from the various channels. They provide additional context and conveniently merged video clips. Sources for each story are noted at the top of each video page.

Newsy Video ReportStories featured on Newsy come from their rotating editorial team, who research blogs, news sites, magazines, television and many other sources. They have their own technology which can record as they do their research to help them put together the whole story when they feel they have a comprehensive, bias-free view.  Viewers are invited to comment on stories and contribute as well.

Newsy iPad App Main PageNewsy is a refreshing look at world, US, political, business, tech, entertainment, science and sports news without a bias or an agenda. There are ads on their apps and website, but other than that I’m not sure what their revenue model is. They have been winning awards and getting great reviews, so I’m sure we’ll continue to see them do interesting things.


news360 Splash ScreenNEWS360

If The Daily is the first iPad-only news and Newsy is the first video-only news, News360 has to be the first semantic analysis news. While it sounds similar, it is actually quite different to something like Zite or News.me. It’s hard to explain without using it. news360 Account Creation

News360 takes information from your social profiles, generates what it thinks are your interests (although you have a lot of granular control over this & can edit it further), and then provides you with a giant feed of stories it thinks are interesting for you. The difference between this and something like Zite is that it collects various sources for the same story and lets you read the version you want (or all of them).

news360 Article View   news360 Original Article View

For example, if I am reading about Steve Yegge’s Google+ post, I get options to read the version from the International Business Times, The Register, Forbes.com, Wired News and 38 additional sources for this story. Whew! Also interesting is that I get the abbreviated text in a nice, easy-to-read format, but I can see the original as well by pulling up the source page below. I also get buttons for sharing the article on any of seven social networks as well as highlighting the common text for this article.

news360 Sharing OptionsThere’s some weirdness in News360. Why do I need a URL to access my stories? Why does it need permission to post to my Twitter feed? Does it actually get value from analysing my Evernote account? Does this process really “save hours of my life?”

news360 Account Options    news360 Personalize Options

But despite the long set-up time and confusing options, New360 provides a lot of news sources and a lot of articles relevant to a user’s interests. If you’re a news nut and find yourself visiting lots of sites over the course of a day and re-reading the same articles, this app may help you focus on the unique stories and then read the version that suits you (or all of them, if you need more info), ignoring a lot of duplication.



The doom and gloom we keep hearing from the print media industry is definitely depressing. I recently went to see Page One: Inside the New York Times and found the idea that people might stop paying for investigative journalism very scary. At the same time it is wonderful to see creative minds building apps like these to try to find new models of generating revenue for news and information.  I also love that there is a focus on getting the story from several angles so as to remove bias and get the most correct version. I realize this cannot happen without either exclusive contracts or lack of pay wall, however, so that is a challenge. It will definitely be interesting to see these apps continue to grow.


Tuesday Newsday: More Irish News Online

Last week’s look at Irish Newspaper websites and applications was a bit depressing.  So this week, I’m looking at some of the newer and more tech-friendly alternatives: TheJournal.ie and Storyful.  Neither of these news sources have alternative print formats, they are both digital-only.



TheJournal.ie is an Irish news website which invites users to “shape the news agenda.”  Produced and owned by Distilled Media, TheJournal.ie has partner sites for business, sports and entertainment news as well (all linked in the top navigation bar).  While it’s been around since early 2010, TheJournal.ie is currently in public beta. This means the site is visible to the general public, although it may continue to test and trial new features so there may be glitches or new bits and pieces from time to time.

TheJournal.ie Front Page

TheJournal.ie’s front page is a modern and less formal site powered by WordPress. It is attractive and easy to navigate.  The tagged thumbnails and summaries are great and make it easy to browse headlines and stories. My only complaint is that some of the animated advertisements on the front page, like the Fine Gael one above are quite jittery and take away from the ability to pay attention to the headlines & summaries. Other advertisements I’ve seen on the site are much nicer, notably the ones produced by other Distilled Media sites like boards.ie.

Tagged Articles

The “Trending tags” link at the top of the front page (and also waaaayyyy at the bottom) shows off TheJournal.ie’s ability to do something most other Irish newspaper sites can’t/don’t: tagging articles.* Clicking one of the trending tags shows a list of articles relevant to that tag, when the article was posted, how many views & comments it has had, a brief summary and quick links to share via Facebook and Twitter.


Link to Mobile Site

TheJournal.ie has a mobile version of their website which can be accessed at http://m.thejournal.ie or by clicking the link at the bottom of the main page as shown above.

TheJournal.ie iPhone app main page     TheJournal.ie iPhone app article view

The mobile website is excellent and streamlined, focusing on the top main story and the most recent stories with a small downward arrow icon to allow the user to switch to one of the different online properties. As the list of articles is long, it can take a bit of scrolling to get to things like trending tags or most commented articles.  The articles themselves are fantastic, very easy to read with nice typography and images.  I tried the mobile site on both an iPhone and a Windows Phone 7 and both looked great.

    TheJournal.ie iPad app splash screen    TheJournal.ie iPad app in the App Store

As far as apps go, TheJournal hardly needs any because the mobile site works so well. However the iOS apps add a nice navigation bar at the bottom for Latest, Most Popular, Opinion, More and timely events like the Rugby World Cup.  But the best part about the iOS app, which they should definitely advertise more loudly, is the offline capability. The app allows a user to download between 30-120 articles and their images so that you can read while offline.  I tried this while in airplane mode on my flight today and it was great, the only things inaccessible are of course online videos.

TheJournal iPhone Offline Options      Reading TheJournal.ie offline

Navigation in the iOS app takes a little bit of getting used to, you can scroll through the articles and swipe or tap the sides to move to the previous or next article. The Search function is hidden in the “More” section. It might be more useful on the main navigation or if the tags are sufficient for most users, it could probably be removed.

Navigation of TheJournal.ie iPad app      Swiping between TheJournal.ie iPad app articles


Although TheJournal.ie is still relatively new, it boasts over 800,000 monthly visitors, 60,000 readers on the Android & iOS apps, and an additional 80,000 Facebook & 20,000 Twitter followers.  Very impressive stats for a group that has to compete with more established and familiar Irish news sources. I am confident that TheJournal.ie will continue to grow and increase its presence and influence in the Irish news space. I would definitely not be surprised if this was a model they could abstract out and license to other areas similar to Ireland where the main news sites are more old school and less adaptive.



Storyful, now a little over one year old, uses a different approach to TheJournal.ie and most other news websites by taking the perspective that there is always someone closer to the story.  Sources might be local news professionals or amateurs, but they’re often simply regular people who are in the right place at the right time.

Storyful website

Storyful has a “storybuilding tool” on their site which allows users to publish directly to the website.  Users can post to community pages and share stories with friends on Facebook and Twitter to reach an audience all around the world.  It’s a unique model which allows Storyful to share the stories it collects with news sources and major global news organizations all over the world.  Storyful Storybuilding tool

Navigating Storyful’s website is not incredibly obvious if you’re looking for a more standard style of news website. Storyful’s front page presents a few thumbnails of what’s happening now along with things like Around the World in 18 Tweets and real-time Twitter updates.  Towards the bottom it has regular spots like Curator’s Choice and Community Stories which highlight specifically chosen stories.  However if you’re looking for a story that happened yesterday or some general news headlines for European financial stories, it’s not really built for that style of navigation. You can use the search bar to search by topic, but Storyful is not “the daily newspaper.”  Storyful is latest news, worldwide news, told by courageous people affected by the story.  If you want great storytelling and fascinating insights and the most up-to-date developments, this is the place. If you want stock closing prices and the sports scores from yesterday, you’re probably better off on a more traditional news website.

Storyful main page     Storyful Article View

Storyful has a vibrant community of contributors, and their contributions are in various languages, accompanied with photos, videos, tweets and comments, often from people at the scene of unfolding breaking news.  There is no other way to feel closer to a brand new story than by watching these posts get put together and reading what develops.  I know the feeling of continually refreshing Twitter searches for breaking news like the Arab Spring events and London Riots because no news site is going to have the latest turn of events, and feeling thrown into the moment while reading quotes from people who are witnessing it happen. Reading a great Storyful item is a bit like that, but much better organized and with supporting media.

Storyful "Around the World in 18 Tweets"    Storyful Article Contributions

There is no http://m.storyful.com, and unfortunately it doesn’t adapt much for smaller screen sizes, so if you are using it on a phone you will have to do some panning and zooming.  However it looks decent on an iPad, better in landscape mode than in portrait mode, which leaves a lot of unused whitespace at the bottom.  There are definitely some optimizations Storyful could do for mobile devices and smaller screens, a responsive layout being one.  Another thing that might be useful is be a “snap-and-upload” instant story creation tool.  With Storyful’s audience being worldwide, they’ve done the right thing by avoiding mobile apps and just focusing on the website to reach the most people. Many poorer and rural areas use very barebones phones but can still access the web with them; allowing these would-be reporters to maintain access to the story building tool is key. It would also be interesting to see geolocation functionality here, something like a “Breaking news near me” type of option.

Storyful Blog

Something Storyful got right that no one else has yet in Ireland is the personal, behind-the-scenes connection from their blog at http://blog.storyful.com/. This is a great way to show upcoming developments, share what’s new and how it works if relevant, showcase insights gained from analytics and user feedback and just generally let users understand the folks behind the creation of the site a little better.  Storyful’s blog has bits and pieces about recent stories they’ve posted, but it also has some very insightful posts on how and why it works the way it does.  I look forward to seeing more Irish news sites follow their lead and be more transparent about their inner workings.



This area is so fascinating to watch because without the baggage of an existing brand, new news sources can do some very interesting things.  Things like Facebook and Twitter integration are not mere add-ons for these sites, they’re integral to how the sites work.  Embracing new ways of communicating and sharing helps these sites to grow their audience, and in a time where ad spend is vital to survival, audience statistics will go a long way to building and keeping advertiser revenue.

Looking at Google Trends is one way to see general traffic over time, and you can see below that for 2011, traffic is decreasing slightly to bigger sites while jumping around but still slowly increasing over time for TheJournal.ie (Storyful stats were unavailable so they’re not on the chart). These are very forward-thinking organizations and I applaud their hard work and determination to break the status quo.

Google Trends screenshot for 2011


*Unless you’re talking about The Independent’s random highlighting of words inside articles, which is very bizarre and certainly not helpful. I was reading a food article recently which had two hyperlinks in it: path and tricky. Clicking either word took you to a page where any other articles containing the word path or tricky were listed. Why would that ever be useful? The Independent needs to lose that automatic linking, whatever it is.

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 Independent.ie, and Herald.ie, with Independent.ie 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 http://m.independent.ie gives you the following error.

Navigating to m.independent.ie

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 Independent.ie 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 http://irishexaminer.com 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 http://m.irishexaminer.com results in a server not found error, however on their Mobile link, they mention http://m.examiner.ie 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 http://www.irishexaminer.com 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, 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.



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.



                    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.



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



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: 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>”



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.