Archive for the ‘magazines’ category

Atlantic.com: Putting the “Re-” in Reiterations

7, October, 2008

The Atlantic.com, web outpost for the improbably long-tenured U.S. magazine, has debuted another iteration. I’ve lost count of how many sub-launches of the site there have been just since I’ve been paying attention.

But that’s good. From where I sit, multiple iterations are the way to progress on the web. Too often web developers sit for months creating a grand castle,  worrying the details until it’s just “right.” But time passes, opinions multiply, and eventually the grand castle is released as a McMansion with a scrim of Google ads running down the side. Three years later, another team is back at it, with pictures of a new castle up on the conference room walls.

Theatlantic.com, by contrast, just keeps pushing out upgrades every few months. Each one gets better, and creates subsequent opportunities to correct and change course.

Here’s the new masthead, which anticipates the printed magazine’s new retro look:

And here’s editor James Bennet’s explanation of what’s going on.

Key detail. A news-ish feature called “The Current” has been renamed “Dispatches.” Good move. “Dispatches” I understand. “The Current”. . .not so much. More proof that on the web, clear beats clever every time.

Longstanding grievance: How could an operation that “gets it” so well still view the website as a way to sell subscriptions to the petroleum-and-lumber version of the magazine, so much so that it is willing to degrade web user experience in the process of pushing pulp? Witness:

FOUR FREAKIN’ PROMPTS TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINTED MAGAZINE, ABOVE THE FOLD, OCCUPYING THE MOST VALUABLE REAL ESTATE ON THE WEBSITE.

Stop that, I tell you, stop that!

Time.com’s ‘The Page': Like a Blog, But Better

17, September, 2008

There are more things wrong with Time.com’s renovated website than befits a multimedia news-and-content monolith. Maybe that’s due to the lingering toxicities of that whole nearly fatal AOL infection. But those flaws are a subject for another day.

Today I’d like to call attention to really smart evolution of the blog and into a successful new format: The Page, Mark Halperin’s daily dose of high-quality political news scrapery.

[Sorry for the lousy cut-n-paste. Those two images should read seamlessly, as one.]

There’s so much I like about this:

The items are essentially links to the full content on Time.com and elsewhere. This makes the blog an easy scan of current relevant news items, with one-click access to the full versions.

It’s all very visual, using big images, varied typographic textures and white space to make The Page highly scannable. Essentially The Page is a compelling front end for the news.

It’s built on WordPress!

Below the big entries of the moment, the bottom of The Page is a more conventional gathering of news items, but notice again how each is presented with scannable typography and written as if the blurber actually understands the content.

The Page is also pushed out as a daily e-mail.

The Page is an excellent evolution that combines blog, well-crafted blurbified news and next-gen e-mail. It’s one of the most usable products of this type I’ve come across.

The real value-add, as they say on the business side of the operation, is not the content, but Halperin’s brain. Instead of rewriting the news, he selects and presents it.

Flaws? Halperin should be more ecumenical in his item choices, so the product remains a gateway to the political news of the day, not Time.com’s news reporting of same.

Oh, and this: Is the title “The Page” ironic, retro-cool or, for all of the product’s digital virtues, an artifact of the creators’ ink-and-paper-centric worldview?

Conflict of interest note: In a moment of weakness, Time.com several months ago declared this humble blog a Top 25 blog.


Bookmark and Share

VanityFairer: The Magazine’s Social Faux Pas?

2, September, 2008

Seems like everybody and his posse is trying to figure out how to use Twitter to promote a business. A lot of these feeds are loaded with ham-fisted promotions that are as likely to repel as attract. Mainstream media have been no more skilled than your typical supplement pusher, for the most part.

Which brings us to Vanityfairer, a Twitter “fan”feed by someone who identifies “her”self only as Vanity Fair Wayfarer and whose bio reads only “I heart Vanity Fair magazine.”

“Her” updates are really pretty good–mainly pointers to stuff about, in or related to content from the celebrity-addled, scrumptiously visual, annoyingly literate and therefore-hard-to-ignore glossy.

So is this a real fanfeed, or a Twitter Potemkin village?

I couldn’t find any reference to the Vanity Fairer feed on VF’s website.

But back in June VF Daily did a characteristically high-ironic item about the magazine’s new Facebook page. Editorial assistant Bill Bradley writes that he’d been charged with getting 10,000 members for a VF page in two months, at pain of losing his job. [As of this writing, the Facebook page has 8,610 fans, and according to the site, Bradley is no longer in the employ of VF. Of course we have no idea whether this is true.] So clearly someone at VF has been pondering what the magazine should do in the world of social media.

[In fact, read this wonderful entry from Vantiy Fair Daily about VF mid-level editorial staff's recent indoctrination to social media by Conde Nast, which led to the whole Bradley gambit.]

Back to Vanityfairer: It looks to me like the Twitter feed is an undisclosed VF inside job. Vanity Fairer is following a conspicuous list of 51 prominentos from the worlds of technology and media [including Tim O'Reilly, Esther Dyson, WSJ's Kara Swisher, 2.0 author Sarah Lacy, John Dickerson of Slate, Gawker, Ana Marie Cox and TechCrunch, A-list tech bloggers plus a few C-list hangers-on like me].

The trick to building a Twitter posse, as savvy Twitsters know, is to “follow” people whom you hope will follow you back–or actually maybe write a blog item about the Twitter stream to gain some 2.0 brainshare [!]. So there is clearly something tactical and ambitious about Vanity Fairer’s “following” list. Vanity Fairer appears to be following none of her own personal friends, for instance. A bit curious.

[I should point out that as of this date, the only people who have taken Vanity Fairer's bait are CNN social media ubiquitist Rick Sanchez, MSNBC cartoonist Daryl Cagle and someone named Vitor Fasano, who Twitters, I think, in Portugese. And me.]

I direct-messaged Vanity Fairer to see what’s up. “She” wrote this:

Good to hear from you, am actually a fan of *you*rs (Drama 2.0) too! Yes, I am just a fan of VF mag; pretty sure they have no idea I exist. [The reference to "Drama 2.0" regards a mysterious fellow from the world of online advertising and marketing whose schtick is a hilarious bitter cynicism about web 2.0 foolishness. Which is to say his blog is kind of like mine, but his is really good and apparently makes money.]

Then this, an hour later:

p.s. I wish VF HAD put me up to this, it’s something they should be doing!

Then this, after I asked why she was following only media luminaries but not friends:

Have another acct on Twitter 4 friends; this acct lets me “play” a bit anonymously. Media lums I follow here r people I think VF wld follow?

Huh.

For now, let’s have some sport and, what the heck, assume the worst about Vanit Fairer.

If Vanity Fairer is an official VF venture–someone doing the corporate flagship magazine’s bidding but disguised as an independent fan–that’s a bad move by Conde Nast.

Rules No. 1 through 10 of social media are “Don’t f*ck with people.”

Don’t use social media to play pretend. If you want to make a cool Twitter feed for your publication, go for it. But don’t make like it’s not yours. If you’re a real independent fan of the magazine, launch a Twitter feed. But if you have some some sort of entanglement with the pub, say so. No shame in it.

Of course, circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, it’s possible that Vanity Fairer is an independent effort. In which case I am once again spewing nonsense into the digital void. The only consolation is that this is not the first time, nor likely to be the last.

But if I’m right. . .

Vanity Fair has made its reputation by illuminating the world of tuxedo-and-ball-gown “high” society.

Wouldn’t it be a hoot if it stomped into this foreign new social swirl like a drunken hillbilly?


Bookmark and Share

The Economist, Hyperwords & the Clickable Universe

24, June, 2008

Lately I’ve been selecting one story each week that is so worth spending time with I recommend actually printing it out on paper.

I nearly chose Rummaging Through the Internet, from the Economist, but then I caught myself. It’s important to read–but vital that you don’t print it out.

The story takes a look at some emerging technologies that enhance browsing, mostly with 3-D functionality. These are great tools, several of them new to me.

But before the article gets to the 3-D stuff, it introduces something else I wasn’t familiar with, a Firefox (3.0!) add-on called Hyperwords. This utility among many other things turns every word in a story into a hyperlink–without the annoying underline and colored font.

As you browse, select any word and a small menu pops up, offering a bewildering range of actions you can take regarding that word. But the money feature here is the ability to highlight a word–like, say, Hyperwords–then click on Hyperwords/Search/Google first result. . .and up pops a visual of the site represented by the word.

Hyperwords in action

It’s a cool utility, with all of the neat features and bloatware excesses of most.

Still, the reason I mention it is this: The Economist article about all this neat new browsing functionality  has no hyperlinks [shake head here at how mainstream publishers whose businesses are collapsing due to the web don't take even the most rudimentary actions to optimize their content for the web].

So: Install the Hyperwords Firefox plug-in, then read the Economist article.

Select the name of a 3-D browser mentioned in the story you want to check out, click on it as if it’s a hyperlink using Hyperwords, and you’ll go directly to the page. For instance, highlight PicLens, a CoolIris product, and here’s what you get to in one click:

Cool!

Otherwise, you’d have to go do a Google search on the product name, click on it, lose your place in the Economist article, hate life briefly, etc.

Anyhow, the Economist article is a good one, but it’s worthless online unless you download the Hyperwords tool it writes about in order to easily access the other cool tools it cites. (Do make sure you check out SpaceTime whether you read the Economist article or not).

And ask yourself:

How could a medium as web-stupid as the Economist co-exist in the same digital universe as these advanced technologies it writes about?

And which of them do you think will own the future?


Web 2.D’oh! Roundup

16, June, 2008

The Weekly Print ‘n’ Read Feature

Last week I introduced a new feature, the Web 2.Oh. . .Really? Print ‘n’ Read (sm). Each week I highlight one piece of journalism so worthy of extended attention that it’s actually worth printing out and reading later on, away from the computer.

So fire up the ol’ inkjet and click “print” for Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

This selection is either incredibly on-point or ironic, depending on the state of your particular neural network.

Carr’s story offers the rather obvious conclusions that: (1) adult brains can be remapped through repeated activity; and (2) this includes activities like the constant click-and-dive of typical web use. Ergo: Web use makes our brains more acclimated to skimming wide rather than reading deep.

But, as Carr points out, forever has it been thus. When Neitzsche shifted from writing longhand to writing with a typewriter, it changed the way he thought:

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

Which is to say, printing out and reading this article about the effect of web use on your brain may help preserve your current style of brainwork. My small contribution to the status quo.

n.b. Do not miss digital journalism bodhisattva Scott Karp’s response to Carr’s article. Karp’s determined, mapcap journey through the world of analog and digital journalism to track down the magazine, the article, the quote attributed to him, and the proper context for that quote is likely to remap your prefrontal cortex  all by itself. I’d tell you to print it out too, but I’m afraid your printer may pull a HAL.

Great Moments in Digital Journalism History, Cont’d

A blog entry last week in which I gave positive reviews to The Washington Times’ renovated website provoked a response from a reader whose confession may mark a key moment in newspaper history: A reader who canceled a subscription to the print edition because she thinks the website stinks.

I am not making this up. Witnesseth:

Karen LH Says:
9, June, 2008 at 9:38 pm

The Washington Times redesign is a disaster. We actually cancelled our subscription over it. . .

[A moment of silence, please, while we all ponder the baffling implications of this.]

Who says newspaper advertising is dead?

On Wednesday, CMS launched a national advertising campaign to promote its Hospital Compare Web site, which provides data on the quality of care in hospitals across the U.S., USA Today reports.–From California Healthline

And finally: A solution to social network overload

Know a candidate for this job? Growing company now hiring a Facebook Secretary

Forbes.com Gets Social [Media]

21, April, 2008

Magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes was a famous socialite known for throwing fantabulous parties for his rich pals. The online partner of the magazine bearing his name is getting pretty social too. It’s no boozefest on a yacht, but it invites its readers to a lively get-together.

[End of party metaphor here, just in time.]

Most publications now accept that their web sites shouldn’t just present published content with multimedia accessories. They’re slowly giving up on building “walled gardens” that try to prevent visitors from escaping. What’s evolving is widespread use of social media that engage readers to respond to, evaluate and create content. It’s tricky. It’s scary. But it’s essential.

Forbes.com’s social media features:

Reader recommendations: The site gives readers a nearly equal say in surfacing the good stuff: A “Top Rated” module appears above the fold, just below Top News. Too many sites bury this feature.

Community: Its “Stock Pickers Community,” puts a different civilian investor, with picks and a detailed performance record, on the main stage every day. Community members can choose to “follow” people (like Twitter or Facebook, but with a purpose). In aggregate, the number of followers constitute a group endorsement. It’s easy to see how this can encourage to Digg-like mischief ["follow me and I'll follow you!"]. But hey, welcome to 2.0, where the wisdom of the crowds battles the self-interest of the cabal constantly.

Bloggers: Okay, the Forbes.com bloggers are gathering communities of readers, but someone has to tell these folks to write shorter. Their entries are as long as front-of-the-book magazine articles or in-print opinion columns. That’s not going to work on the web. Five hundred words, two links and out, gang. [I exclude myself from this edict, of course.]

Forbes\' OrgChart Wiki

A wiki: The OrgChart wiki is one of the coolest and most wonderfully dangerous features I’ve seen on a suit-and-tie site like Forbes.com. Type a company name and out pops a visual representation of who falls where on the food chain, with little popup notes. Have information to add? Corrections to make? Have at it. It’s like Wikipedia for pod-dwellers and corporate climbers with bad attitudes. Demote your enemies! Appoint your pals to the board! In Web 2.0, you’re in control.

It’s encouraging to see Forbes.com continue to evolve, even after its big renovation last year. That’s the way the web works: Iterate, don’t redesign.

And invite your guests to the party. They’ll misbehave, but that’s part of the fun.

Atlantic.com: They Get It, They Really Get It!

21, March, 2008

The Atlantic, the magazine that is rarely described without the adjective “venerable,” has undergone an astonishing web rebirth–or, rather, series of rebirths.

I don’t mean they’ve gone on the web. They did that a long time ago. I mean they’ve gotten the web.

The magazine (which, with its we’re-doing-it-meta-so-we’re-not-really-pandering cover story on Britney Spears is perhaps trying to earn the adjective “venereal”) has updated is website three times in the past year. Each time it’s gotten better–more web-savvy, more accessible and less self-infatuated.

With its first re-do in August 2007 (for which I gave it this fanny-slam), it retained its dead-from-the-neck-up policy of asking readers to pay to read the full text of the best articles that appeared in the magazine. It also pretty much kept readers out of the game entirely, sticking with the other dead-from-the-neck-up policy of pushing material to web readers but hardly letting them talk back. Smug.

A few months ago the Atlantic website was re-iterated, guillotining the pay-to-play policy and letting readers romp a bit–adding a not-very-venerably-named “Hot Reads” box of most read, commented, etc.,  splaying out an excess of thinky blogs on the home page, and opening up to reader comments.

And this month a new iteration takes the website into the new world almost fully. Its new section, named The Current, features

  • Three blissfully short contributions daily, navigable by calendar
  • Links to “best opinion”–off-site
  • Comments galore–including a Post and Riposte forum section
  • Smartly curated related-content links, both off- and on-site
  • Free access to back-issue (and related web-only) content back to 1995 (for issues before that, you still have to pay)
  • Continuation of the high-cranial blogs, some of which now integrate multimedia

I could pick nits, but won’t. The Atlantic has demonstrated one of the most important concepts of web development–repeated iteration and continuous improvement. I suspect more improvements will come, but already the website has cleared a very high bar.

Who knows? Someday people may refer to theatlantic.com itself as “venerable.”

The Atlantic: Finding Its Sea Legs

22, January, 2008

I’m delighted to report that as of today the website for The Atlantic magazine has stuck an epee in its self-infatuated, self-destructive policy of permitting only subscribers of the print edition to read articles published in the printed magazine online.

A New York Times story reports on the change of heart. The Atlantic’s policy, while not entirely uncommon, is so dunderheaded it’s hard to know where to start.

  • People who subscribe to the print edition don’t need to read the stories online–so they essentially receive nothing of value for their patronage.
  • Potential new readers are punished and insulted when they go to read an article and get stopped by the dead-tree police. Subscribe or pay $2.95 to read any further, pal. You got a problem with that? 

This kind of policy begins when someone in a corner office sputters, “But we can’t give it away for free, we’ll erode our subscriber base!” and turns into reality when others in the room lacking the courage or brains to  explain why this is a terrible way to treat high quality content these days.

Atlantic’s operators got religion when they realized, hey, the site’s excellent blogs were getting enough traffic to sell–they’ve even hired some people to sell ads for it now!  

Go to theatlantic.com and you can–if you’re feeling like a chair in front of a computer is a good way to spend the next 45 minutes or so of your life–read every freaking word of Jeffrey Goldberg’s excellent piece on the Middle East after Iraq. Or  the usually brilliant Dana Milbank’s not-all-that-funny excerpt of his new book about lifeways along the Potomac.

Interesting fact in the Times story: 308,000 visitors hit the Atlantic’s web site last month; 400,000 subscribe to the magazine. (Atlantickers say the web site traffic really a lot higher. Wish I had a Facebook stock option for every time I’ve heard that one.)

The last time I looked at Atlantic’s site, I cited them for highbrow contempt of reader–not even having the decency to  publish a most read/most e-mailed listing to allow their readers to have some sort of say in what appears on the site.

Well, that’s changed too.

There is now a lipstick red box that squeals “Hot Reads” and includes most popular items from the magazine and online, and the items with the most comments. Good move, but now they’re trying too hard to be with the smart set: Lookit, kids, I get it now! 

Reader’s Digest 2.0? Yes

5, December, 2007

Reader’s Digest, that endearingly lower-middlebrow American institution, has been largely overlooked in the world of print-to-digital transformation. Who can blame us? What could the folks who brought us such gems as fast-reading edits of James Michener and articles like “I am Joe’s Islets of Langerhans” have to contribute to the world of digital publishing?

Fast answer: More than you’d suspect.

Check out the following:

  • An Election 08: “Grade the Candidates” tool. Rate each candidate on a 4.0 scale. (Results so far seem to suggest, unsurprisingly, that rd.com users lean right.) It’s got usability problems, but it’s a worthy entry in the ’08 2.0 derby. Even its exclusion of Internet diva Ron Paul carries a certain RD charm. Whether the producers simply don’t get out enough to know who Ron Paul is, or figure he’s not important enough to include, is inconsequential. You’ve got to admire its innocent devotion to mainstream civics.
  • The home page’s Daily Top5, a module of that eerily preserves the sweet, dorky sensibility of the publication using interactive and traditional media: carefully selected YouTube videos [today's is a comedy routine making fun of daily mom-isms], “addictive games,” a [network] TV show of the night, etc.
  • A front-page mix that includes heart-warming inspirational stories, the expected pre-Martha how-do content, user-submitted photos and the display of such utterly safe celebrities as Tom Hanks.
  • It even markets its podcasts as “RD Out Loud”–a sort of digital-audio version of the magazine’s beloved “large print edition.”

Sure, it’s easy for us new media snobs to make fun of Reader’s Digest. But if there is an example of a publication that has prudently adopted 2.0 technologies to extend its brand online–while preserving the publication’ s sensibilities precisely–I’d like to hear about it.

The Future of Magazines

20, September, 2007

There have been two interesting reports in the last couple of days on the state of ink-on-paper magazines, which (may) be less threatened by new media than newspapers. There’s a thoughtful interview with Betsy Frank, who holds the title chief research and insights officer for Time Inc., on the site jackmeyers.com. Her point: Magazines offer “relaxation, inspiration, and trust. . .combined with the digital promise of personalized content, passionate communities, and consumer control.” Self interested? Sure. But not necessarily wrong.

And yesterday came a report on the Folio website that magazines have (barely) passed newspapers in the battle for advertising market share.

Yes, magazines do have a cuddle-up factor, along with shelf life, that newspapers don’t. This could indeed help them sustain a place in the media life of even the more digitized consumers.

And, liberated from the duty of delivering daily news, many of them are also doing some very interesting things digitally that take them beyond many newspaper initiatives.

  • Consumer Reports is posting free videos of its crash-test-dummy tests by make, brand and year
  • Meredith Corp. just purchased Realage.com, a slightly hokey but very popular personal health assessment and management site. It previously purchased Healia, an excellent vertical search engine in the health space that filters out crap and provides clean, filterable results. Meredith plans to deploy the search across its titles that draw health-seeking readers.
  • Playboy has created a area in Second Life and a PlayboyU, a kind of social networking site for coeds. In another startling innovation, it has added twelve non-nude screensavers to its offerings.
  • Low Rider magazine has added social networking features.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.