No, the just-launched Glass isn’t Quartz’s foray into wearables — it’s the new home for the Atlantic Media business site’s “obsession” (Quartz’s term for verticals) with screens:
“The name is an argument: that media are best understood as a competition for attention on screens connected to the internet. Phones, tablets, laptops, monitors, TVs—it’s all just glass.”
Editor Zach Seward writes that the site, glass.qz.com, is powered by Fargo, with an outline format Seward calls a “notebook.” Content is broken into small parts, and many of the main points are expandable.
Seward told me via email that lots of topics could be a natural fit for this format, but TV (broadly defined) in particular “is well-suited for an outline because there’s just so much going on related to that topic, generating a lot of half-formed and stray thoughts. The notebook is an ideal home for that kind of stuff and should appeal to people who are similarly obsessed with the future of TV.”
The larger goal, Seward indicated, is to move beyond a one-size-fits-all model for presenting various types of content:
The broader idea—and it’s a work in progress—is to figure out how to give an obsession a proper home http://t.co/BNqd2D6OP7
— Zach Seward (@zseward) May 12, 2014
Here’s some quick thoughts on the notebook format, keeping in mind that Glass is likely to change quite a bit in the weeks ahead and add other features (Seward has been open on Twitter this morning about the site being a work in progress):
— Interestingly, it’s mostly text-based coverage of a visual medium. That eliminates the need for the goofy stock images that sometimes run on Quartz and lots of other news sites with an everything-must-have-a-photo philosophy. The stripped-down, utilitarian design won’t catch anyone’s eye, but if you’re obsessed with TV news maybe that won’t matter.
— The content is stripped-down, too. This is mostly quick-hit aggregation, presented as a stream of posts that don’t require clicking to separate pages. So there aren’t article pages as such (although you can still link to individual posts), but you have to do a lot of clicking to expand some of the “notes.” While the mechanics of the site are nice, I’ll be curious to see if Seward and the lead developer, Sam Williams, dial back some of the tapping required to uncover content. I’m not sure it makes sense to expand a note just to reveal one more paragraph. Quartz itself is a long stream of fully expanded content that only requires scrolling; Glass is a short stream of unexpanded content that requires lots of clicking/tapping. It’ll be interesting to track all those clicks, but they might not be the best user experience.
— It’s still hard to be fully mobile-first, particularly when it comes to aggregation — and even more particularly when it comes to aggregating desktop- or print-first graphics. That’s perhaps not a reason to avoid dense graphics altogether — I wrote in February about how Quartz, despite its mobile-first design, is still accessed primarily on desktop computers. But ensuring sometimes-complex charts will be viewable on mobile remains a vexing problem that even mobile pioneer Quartz hasn’t found a great solution for. Unlike Quartz, which doesn’t allow for zooming, I was able to pinch-to-zoom to better see a Wall Street Journal graphic shared by Glass — but Safari on my iPhone crashed whenever I did.
— Click-free navigation to another story is all the rage right now, at Quartz, at the new Los Angeles Times site, at TIME — but the Glass “notebook” is only viewable on the homepage. Fully 70 percent of Quartz’s audience arrives via social, Ken Doctor has reported, so it’s crucial that visitors arriving at individual posts via Facebook and Twitter remain on the site. But visitors to individual article pages at Glass will have to jump to the homepage to find more content — at this point nothing gets automatically populated underneath individual posts. Then again, maybe Glass is intended to be so hyper-targeted to a niche audience that it’s betting readers will bookmark the site and spend most of their time on the homepage anyway.