Articles about "Mobile design and usability"


Why the mobile-preview feature in BuzzFeed’s CMS should matter to you

When Dao Nguyen forgot to check a piece she wrote on a mobile device before it went live, she knew BuzzFeed had a problem. Nguyen is BuzzFeed’s vice president of growth and data, and “obviously it’s not my job to write a post,” she said by phone. But writing a big list post is a lot of work, she said, and previewing it on a non-desktop platform was a task easily forgotten.

Now when BuzzFeed authors click the preview button in their CMS, they see what their posts will look like on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers when they preview them, Nguyen said. That’s a fix that’s important for the site’s readers’ experiences, because sometimes writers use “embeds and large graphics that don’t scale down to mobile-sized screens,” Chris Johanesen, BuzzFeed’s vice president of product, said on the same call.

But it’s also important for BuzzFeed’s business: “Very often people discover our content on their phones,” she said. The site’s trademark lists and reported articles get lots of mobile traffic (almost half of the million views of a recent long BuzzFeed article were on mobile devices, Megan Garber reported earlier this month), but the site’s graphics-heavy quizzes “do really really well on mobile,” Nguyen said. One, “What City Should You Actually Live In?,” had more than half its views from mobile devices.

Preview a post in the BuzzFeed CMS, and you’ll automatically see what it looks like on a phone.

OK, so a tweak to BuzzFeed’s content management system isn’t exactly the most earth-shaking media news. And BuzzFeed’s mission is probably nothing like the one your newsroom has. But content management systems matter, as Felix Salmon wrote back in November: Publications that want to compete on a large scale need a CMS that “does everything well, from video to real-time storytelling to sophisticated ad integration,” like Vox Media’s Chorus platform. (Ezra Klein, in fact, cited Chorus as a major draw when he brought his as-yet-unnamed publication to Vox.)

BuzzFeed’s CMS may not scale in the same ways Vox’s can — it’s “so narrowly optimized to the unique BuzzFeed voice that it’s hard to see it being extended across a broad swathe of different sites,” Salmon wrote — but publications that want to compete in their own territory might want to look at how BuzzFeed’s product teams interact with its editorial and advertising pods, and build tools that help both sides succeed.

When I visited BuzzFeed’s new office late last year, I noticed that the tech teams were situated at the bottom of a “U,” with editorial up one side of the letter and business on the other. Between those departments was a thick wall. That real estate isn’t just symbolically important, Nguyen said: “At some media companies, technology isn’t necessarily a first class citizen. At BuzzFeed, technology is really core to the product, core to the success.”

As the site’s began adding content types beyond lists, the CMS evolved in consultation with all the groups who used it, Johanesen said. Editors have a dashboard that gives them data like what percentage of traffic to a piece is coming from mobile devices, for instance. “We know that certain social networks behave differently on different devices, Nguyen said. For example, Traffic that comes from Pinterest users on tablet devices is higher than traffic that comes from Twitter users on tablets. “A subtle distinction but one of the many things we look at,” she said. With those kind of tools, she said, “You’re a better editor.”

The creators of BuzzFeed’s sponsored content posts use the same tools, Johanesen said, benefiting from the same data insights as well.

Alice DuBois, who’s the product lead for editorial, meets weekly with the editorial department to discuss improvements to the CMS. “There’s lots of cheering in those meetings,” Nguyen said. Shani O. Hilton and Saeed Jones, both editors at BuzzFeed, confirmed in emails to Poynter that cheering is not uncommon in these gatherings. Hilton added that email chains DuBois starts are sometimes greeted by “dozens of excited reaction gifs, dispatched from staffers across editorial.” Read more

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Students at the University of Cincinnati talk on their phones in this April 2006 photo. Campus news sites are seeing their audiences migrate to mobile devices. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

College websites seeing mobile migration, but not all are ready

Website traffic at the University of Oregon’s Daily Emerald was less than 1 percent mobile in 2010. This year, it’s 39 percent and growing. And while visits on desktops have more than doubled to 951,000 since 2010, mobile visits have risen from about 2,700 to 619,000 — nearly 23,000 percent — in that time. (Statistics cover Jan. 1 through Oct. 31 of each year.)

“I told our students that I think next year we will be majority mobile and the news editor asked me: ‘What does that mean for us?’ ” Ryan Frank, Emerald Media Group publisher, said in a phone interview. “It means we’re no longer digital-first — we’re mobile-first.”

It’s a similar story at Ohio State University where I serve as student media director and oversee The Lantern Media Group. The Lantern has seen its mobile traffic grow from more than 16,000 visits in 2010 to nearly 531,000 this year, marking a dramatic rise from 1.4 percent of traffic to more than 25 percent.

But are college-media outlets doing enough to best serve their increasingly mobile audience? Experts say no.

“I think a lot of college newspapers are failing to take advantage of the natural audience for mobile news applications,” Rachele Kanigel, associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, where she advises Golden Gate Xpress, said in an email. “Many are so busy covering news and putting out their print and online editions that they don’t have the time and energy to think mobile-first. And social media and the need to feed that beast distracts college newspapers from mobile, too.”

Dan Reimold, an assistant professor of journalism at Saint Joseph’s University, where he advises The Hawk, agreed.

“College students are constantly on their mobile phones. College media are not — at least not yet,” Reimold, who also maintains the College Media Matters website, said in an email. “Most of the student press is still beholden to, at worst, a print-first mentality and, at best, a web-and-print mix-and-match mindset. Mobile is entering the conversation. But it’s not yet a driver in big-picture planning sessions or editorial meetings.”

Limited resources, business struggles

College-media outlets often have limited financial and human resources. They also must deal with high turnover among editorial and business staffs.

Another issue is that “a lot of student editors feel overwhelmed or daunted by the technical challenges of developing mobile apps,” said Kanigel, who is also president of the College Media Association. And there are high marketing costs involved to help ensure a new, native iPhone app is successful.

The Emerald Media Group is unusual in that it has a full-time, professional programmer on staff, who has designed a couple of native iPhone apps and some experimental projects. But the Daily Emerald’s website isn’t where it needs to be from a mobile perspective; Frank said some changes are likely before this school year is over.

To help better serve its increasingly mobile audience, the students working on The Lantern website redesign here at Ohio State insisted that the theme look good and be easy to navigate on mobile devices. The new site, which launched in September after about a year of work, is a big improvement from the old mobile version, which was basically a list of headline links. The mobile version essentially recreates the website pages, including much easier viewing of photos and other visuals. But it took longer than expected to roll out and there have been programming and other obstacles to overcome.

The business side also presents a challenge. Frank mentioned the possibility of exploring native advertising, or sponsored content, as used successfully at BuzzFeed, Quartz and elsewhere.  (Native advertising was discussed by the Federal Trade Commission yesterday in Washington.)

“In a mobile-first world, banner ads are not going to cut it,” Frank said, adding that teaching students to use their phones to shoot video or photos isn’t nearly as complicated as figuring out how to make money for college media in the increasingly mobile world.

Experimentation is happening

Still, the mobile news isn’t all bad.

Reimold said he has seen a recent increase in mobile-responsive sites among student press outlets, along with Instagram experimentation. Student reporters also are “definitely using mobile devices to regularly report breaking news and produce real-time coverage of big events.”

The Lantern and Buckeye TV crews here at Ohio State have used their smartphones to help cover breaking news events around campus. A journalism class here, taught by my colleague Nicole Kraft, provides iPads for student use as part of a broader Digital First initiative on campus.

Frank has seen some success with early adopters in the newsroom at Oregon, where the sports staff got good-quality microphones for their smartphones and recorded audio and video at football practices to upload to YouTube. There was also a recent fire that reporters on the scene covered using their mobile devices.

At San Francisco State, the Xpress magazine has had an iPad app for several years and one issue each semester is iPad-only, Kanigel said. (Here’s one example).

Both Reimold and Kanigel noted the UCLA Daily Bruin as among the best college-media outlets at experimenting with and producing mobile-first content.

Still, many college newspaper editors don’t go beyond optimizing content for mobile, said Kanigel.

“Only a few are truly thinking strategically about mobile when it comes to editorial content, advertising or both,” she said, adding that “I think there are opportunities for college newspapers to do some really innovative, ground-breaking work with mobile technology, but I’m not seeing a lot of it happening.”

The question of the moment for college-media outlets in the mobile realm, Frank said, remains to be answered: “How do we use the greatest reporting tool ever invented, which is in our pocket, and use it more effectively?” Read more


What journalists need to know about responsive design: tips, takeaways & best practices

Phones and tablets have created new ways for audiences to reach our work, but they’ve also made it much harder to design a website that works for all readers. A site that looks great on a laptop might be illegible on a phone, while a sleek design on a tablet might look simplistic on a desktop monitor.

To make sure everyone has a good experience, we might be tempted to build different sites — one for phones, another for tablets, and a third for laptop and desktop users.

That might have been a workable solution when there were just a few mobile-device sizes to account for, but what about the current media landscape with oversized phones, shrunken tablets and everything in between? Creating different sites for each possible configuration is a daunting prospect, especially when new form factors seem to pop up every day.

This is where responsive design comes in. It’s a simple solution to a big problem — a way to account for different devices without requiring different sites. Instead, responsive design extends a core Web principle — the separation of design from content and structure — to give us a way to make a site appear differently depending on the size of the device it’s accessed on.

The promise of responsive design

Responsive design benefits how a site is built and maintained. Because a responsive site is still just one site (with several faces), only one codebase and one publishing process are needed. Content doesn’t need to be replicated to another system — manually or otherwise — to make it accessible to a second set of users. And design changes can be made sitewide or for a specific device size, providing lots of flexibility in maintaining a site over time. 

Responsive design offers a second advantage. Since it emphasizes reusing visual elements and retaining content and functionality on different versions of a site, it encourages a consistent experience across devices. A reader who starts a story on her phone and finishes it on her tablet will get a fluid experience that feels like browsing the same site, but in ways that cater to the screen being used.

USA Today has implemented responsive techniques to develop desktop and tablet versions of their site, but their phone presence calls on a separate mobile site — with differences not just in design but content.

News organizations and other content publishers are in a particularly good position to use responsive design, at least when it comes to their articles and news stories. Things get a bit trickier with multimedia or interactivity, as we’ll see later.

But the main obstacle to enjoying a news story on a phone is one of design: Is the font size appropriate? Are there margins or padding separating content from the edge of the screen? Has the number of columns in the layout been greatly reduced? Are navigation options easy to see and tap? Responsive design doesn’t address these issues in one fell swoop, but it does give us a chance to make sure we have an answer lined up, while concentrating the bulk of our site-building efforts into one product.

How CSS and media queries factor in

Under the hood, responsive design involves a few different Web technologies working in concert, but the most important is CSS and, specifically, a tool called a media query. 

Remember, CSS — cascading style sheets — is the technology used to design a website. CSS can be used to change typography and color, and is also the tool designers use to change the layout of a site, including the placement and width of elements. So it’s not surprising that it’s at the heart of responsive design.

CSS media queries are clever ways to change the styles that take effect depending on the device used to access the content. In other words, media queries can make CSS conditional on whether a visitor’s using a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

All kinds of properties, such as color depth and aspect ratio, can be “queried.” But the most important feature to consider when implementing a responsive design (indeed, often the only feature considered) is width. Based on this one property, we can decide what version of a design makes the most sense to serve. The interesting thing about the width property is it refers not to the size of the device but rather to the browser. That means the mobile version of a responsive site can be previewed on a laptop or desktop simply by shrinking the browser’s width.

The Toronto Standard spans its navigation across two columns in the phone version of its design and makes the links larger (and easier to tap).

In plain English, a typical media query looks something like this:

If the width of the device accessing this site is less than 480 pixels, load all the styles that follow.

Another media query in the same stylesheet might look like this:

If the width of the device accessing this site is greater than 480 pixels but less than 960 pixels, load all the styles that follow. 

Here’s what the actual code for the first example looks like:

@media screen and (max-width: 480px) {

The key to a media query is to define width boundaries and then load up styles when a device meets the parameters. Boundaries can be defined one way (less than 480 pixels, for example) or two (between 480 and 960 pixels).

A boundary is also known as a breakpoint — a condition under which the styles on a site will change. If a site has one breakpoint, it sports two designs: one on either side of the break.

The power of media queries — and thus responsive design — lies in their flexibility. Once a breakpoint has been defined, any valid CSS can follow. This can result in big changes in how a site appears, even though the markup doesn’t change and a large portion of the CSS stays the same.

The Boston Globe design moves from three columns, then two and finally one as the width decreases.

The simplest way to think about a responsive website is that it gets narrower as the viewport — the width of the Web browser — shrinks. Though it’s true the overall width will vary with a responsive site, other factors might also change:

  • The position of elements. A site with three columns on a laptop may switch to two columns on a tablet. The content in the third column, rather than disappearing, will reposition itself below the remaining two columns.
  • The width of elements. Columns may become narrower, and images and videos may shrink.
  • Font sizes. A headline might appear in smaller font size, or even a different type face.

These differences — and more — are possible because designers can control the full range of properties accounted for in the CSS specification when they employ responsive design.

Making things fluid

In the early days of the Web, fluid designs were prevalent. These layouts would fill the browser window, whether it was full-screen on a huge monitor or narrow on a tiny one. As designs became more sophisticated, fluid layouts fell out of favor: the differences between a fluid layout at its widest and narrowest possible configurations were simply too great to create predictable results.

By limiting just how much the width of a site changes before it “resets” to a new configuration, responsive design has created a renaissance for fluid layouts. It’s now possible to have the best of both worlds: layouts that expand or contract to fill the precise dimensions of the screens they’re viewed on while offering structures fundamentally agreeable with the general screen size.

Best of all, fluid layouts are an option when employing responsive design, but not a requirement. To switch to them, designers define the width of the elements on a page in times of percentages rather than absolute values (such as pixels).

Quartz incorporates a navigation link in the upper-right corner with a dropdown menu, a common design pattern for phone layouts.

Best practices to keep in mind

Responsive design has gained enough traction that we’re starting to see best practices emerge. Here are some points to consider if you’re looking to adopt a responsive design for your publication.

  • Use commonly-accepted breakpoints. There’s no need to guess at what dimensions are best to use. Here’s a commonly-used chart to get you started:
    • 320px and lower – portrait phones
    • 321px to 480px – landscape phones
    • 481px to 768px – portrait tablets
    • 769px to 940px – landscape tablets
    • 941px to 1200px – laptop/small desktop
    • 1200px and higher – large desktop/TV


  • Don’t design everything at once. A responsive design with six breakpoints is quite ambitious. It’s better to start more modestly — you can always design for additional breakpoints later. As a starting point, you might focus on just desktop (940px and higher), tablet (480px to 940px) and phone (480px and lower) layouts.
  • Start big. Designing the largest version of a site or page first is usually best because it’s easiest. Difficult design choices must be made within the constraints of tablet and phone screen sizes.
  • Don’t throw anything out. As you move to narrower designs, it’s tempting to discard some of the elements that don’t fit. Avoid this temptation. One of the goals with responsive design is to keep the mobile Web a first-class experience, not a watered-down version of your “real” site.
  • Focus on a single column for phones. Single-column layouts should dominate designs for phones. Switching to two columns is possible on occasion, but most of your content will need to flow linearly from top to bottom. That makes ordering especially important since browsing on a phone will likely require lots of swiping to get to the bottom of the page. 

For more on these and related best practices, take a look at this terrific post by Tito Bottitta, one of the folks who worked on The Boston Globe’s responsive site.

Downsides to consider

Responsive design is a good way to deal with the increasingly varied devices audiences use to reach content. But it’s not without its costs.

Most notably, responsive design doesn’t automatically tailor a site to different devices — it merely offers the opportunity to do so. That means an investment must be made both in designing and deploying each site version: a site with two breakpoints must be designed three times, for example. Of course, many design elements can — and should — recur from one version to the next. Typography, color, iconography and other design pillars should largely be consistent. But grids, hierarchies and clickable areas will likely change.

Performance is another consideration. Some responsive designs incorporate CSS and JavaScript, a related Web technology. JavaScript can add advanced effects, but it can also slow things down, especially on older devices. Likewise, responsive design won’t fix underlying problems with a site’s markup, If the code’s bloated and slow, responsive design won’t speed it up.

Content isn’t the only consideration when approaching a responsive design. Different layouts mean different ad inventories — the banner that fits perfectly on your widescreen layout will get squished or clipped on a phone.

Site analytics are likely to get more complicated with a responsive design, too.

It’s also important to remember that responsive design is a set of techniques for implementing a mobile-friendly Web strategy. It won’t help answer questions about whether you should also invest in one or more apps or whether those apps should be native or Web-based.

Newsweek makes extensive use of fluid techniques, expanding images to fill even the widest monitors.

Making sure responsive design is right for you

A decision to pursue responsive design means you’re taking your mobile Web presence seriously. That may seem like a no-brainer, but mobile isn’t just about the Web, and you may still have a sizeable audience that’s just interested in getting your content on desktops or laptops.

Since responsive design will require an investment, here are some things to make sure before you get too far into it: 

  • You want to reach an audience across devices with your Web presence. Responsive design is all about the Web. If you’re pursuing a different strategy — one that hinges on native apps, for example — responsive design should take a back seat.
  • You want to deliver the same content across platforms. Responsive design is great for customizing the presentation of your site. But it’s not the right tool if you need to deliver unique content or functionality.
  • You’re starting from scratch, or your existing infrastructure benefits from “clean” markup. It can be challenging to make responsive design work on a big legacy site, especially when there isn’t a clear-cut separation between the structure and design of the site.
  • You’re ready to invest more in design. Responsive design makes design more important, and requires a bigger investment to make that design work. (Though there’s a potentially bigger payoff.)

Taking the next steps

Like all parts of the Web, the technologies undergirding responsive design are in flux. Even as the CSS3 specification gains traction, proposals are under review for its successor, CSS4.

Some of the issues now under review include how complex structures such as tables and forms are handled, and how the resolution of images and video can be adjusted depending on the device.

In the meantime, the techniques needed to bring a polished responsive design to fruition are well developed, especially for article-based content. And one of the best ways to get started with responsive design is by using a framework — a collection of pre-built code that takes a lot of the heavy lifting out the equation, helping you stay focused on your content and how to best present it. Read more

Google Android Gadget

As Android tablets grow, publishers struggle to match the iPad experience

When the IDC forecast this month that Google’s Android operating system would soon surpass Apple’s iOS in tablet market share, publishers of digital magazines could be excused for some handwringing.

Since 2010, Apple’s dominance of the market allowed publishers to reach the majority of the tablet audience by targeting just one device: the iPad. But times have changed.

Thirty-one percent of American adults now own tablets, according to Pew. Much of the growth in the market is being driven by device proliferation, and many of these devices run Android.

The Nexus 10 Android tablet
A Google employee browses magazine issues on The Nexus 10 tablet at a Google announcement in San Francisco last fall. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The relative affordability and portability of new down-sized tablets like the Nexus 7 offer more entry points for tablet consumers, but they present headaches for digital magazine publishers: How do they best reach readers on dozens of different devices with wildly varying screen sizes and processing power? Read more

Sergey Brin

Google Glass is here: How to build news apps that get in users’ faces

Google Glass, a pair of wearable computer-enhanced eyeglasses, is possibly the next-big-thing in mobile computing.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass glasses at an event in San Francisco in February. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

About 8,000 developers have prototypes, and the public is expected to be able to buy them soon. Early reviews are a mix of awesome and awkward — life-changing technology held back only by concerns about privacy and aesthetics.

We’ve been expecting this evolution since at least 2011, when Poynter friends and former fellows Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan created a futuristic video called “The Storm Collection” depicting a future where “photo frames, windshields and eyeglasses become heads-up-displays for information. Call them NUDs: news-up-displays.”

It’s here. Read more


Tablet storytelling is visual, tappable, deep

Three years after Apple and others put digital tablets firmly into the hands of consumers, what do we really know about the way the devices are used for news?

Hundreds of people filed in to a large ballroom at South by Southwest last week for “Lean Forward, Lean Back: Tablet News Experience” to hear perspectives from Poynter research, focus groups and practical case studies from news organizations around the world.

The session brought together part of Poynter’s research team, led by Poynter’s Sara Quinn, who shared findings of the Institute’s EyeTrack: Tablet study, with Mario Garcia, CEO and founder of Garcia Media, and researcher/developer David Stanton from Smart Media Creative. Jeremy Gilbert of Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern was also on the research team.

“It’s essential for editors to rethink how the audience consumes content,” Garcia told the crowd.

The international news designer recommends a multisensory approach to designing for the brain, the eye and the hands. “You must keep the finger happy,” he said, meaning that a tablet user expects to find elements of surprise and engagement. “Like a children’s pop-up book,” he said.

When Garcia maps out the possibilities for interactive “pop-up moments” in a story, he thinks of it much as a screen director might develop a storyboard. He sketches out each facet and puts it up on the wall to step back and look at the flow.

“You should be able to click on an image or photograph for more information, or for a video,” he said. “Pop-ups don’t have to be complicated. But if all you do is turn the pages, your readers are not going to be happy.”

Poynter’s eyetracking study showed a strong tendency for tablet users to focus on content by keeping nearly constant contact with the screen — touching, tapping, pinching and swiping frequently.

“A high expectation comes with the device,” said Quinn. “During our study, we saw readers tap and tap on elements that weren’t tappable,” she said. “The element of discovery is one of the joys of the tablet. And for journalists and storytellers, it takes practice to develop the skills to create consistently strong interactive experience in a story — especially in a daily product.”

recent study shows that tablets engage online users longer than smart phones, Garcia reported.

The Adobe Digital Marketing findings, released March 6, found that said people read at greater length on tablets than on other devices. Adobe found that “on average, users view 70 percent more pages per visit when browsing with a tablet compared to a smart phone.”

Tablets have become the primary device for mobile browsing, Garcia said. Global websites are now getting more traffic from tablets than smartphones, 8% and 7% of monthly page views respectively, according to the study. This includes surfing, video use and shopping online.

“Smart phones are used for shorter visits and moments between moments,” said Quinn, “the tablet lends itself to more leisurely use — perhaps ideal for more in-depth reading and browsing.”

“All of this means change for both storytellers and advertisers,” said Garcia, mentioning the morning and evening editions of Dubai’s Gulf News app and others. “We have seen evidence that users prefer to use it in the evening hours which, we assume, allows for more of an in-depth experience as users are in a more leisure mode,” he wrote in a recent post on The Mario Blog.

“We are going to see more ‘editioning’ — the creation of mini-newspapers and mini-magazines on smartphones,” Garcia said by email.

Garcia commended the German tabloid Bild and the Huffington Post tablet edition for great multi-sensory work. Bild currently has eight staffers who create three to four pop-up experiences each day. They also make good use of templates, he said, so that they are able to focus on the quality of the content.

Tablet research continues, as this summer, Poynter will release results on how touch and interactivity help people understand and remember what they’ve read.

Read more


What journalists need to know about storytelling on tablets

Poynter’s most recent Eyetrack study reveals some interesting findings about how readers consume news on tablet devices. During a live chat, Poynter’s Sara Quinn and Northwestern University’s Jeremy Gilbert talked about the findings and their implications for journalists.

Here are some of the topics they addressed:

  • How to create stories that satisfy mobile and tablet users.
  • The differences between storytelling on tablets and storytelling on the Web.
  • What the elements of “touch” add to a story.
  • What helps people focus on stories they read on tablet devices.

Gilbert and Quinn, who helped lead the Eyetrack research, offered practical tips and answered related questions from the audience. You can replay the chat, which followed a related News University Webinar, here:

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >What journalists need to know about designing & crafting stories on tablets</a> Read more

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Excerpt from ‘iPad Design Lab’: How tablets allow us to disconnect

As Poynter releases the findings of its latest Eyetrack tablet research, we are also excerpting an abridged section from Mario Garcia’s new book, “iPad Design Lab.”

Storytelling is the one thing that has not changed, regardless of how many platforms we use to practice our craft. With a good story in hand, the rest becomes easy.

A medium in its infancy, the tablet affords us the opportunity to examine and discover as we create apps. We know users spend considerable time with it and prefer it as an evening companion.

I was struck, when designing my first tablet app, that I was designing for the brain, the eye and the finger — and all at the same time. I pay particular attention to the finger, which I consider both unforgiving and impatient: It wants to touch the screen and immediately get results. It is up to an editor or designer to provide for this finger.

The use of the finger is one of the unique characteristics of the tablet. The tablet is not a newspaper, an online edition or a television. But it can act at times like all of the above. In many ways, the tablet is more exciting than print and more engaging than a website. It creates an interactive relationship with the user, who wants to participate, not just read passively.

In addition, tablets allow people to disconnect, as William Powers wrote in his 2010 book “Hamlet’s BlackBerry.” With a tablet, we disconnect from the hectic, buzzing, constantly updated world the way we do with a good book that we have chosen to read at a special moment when we know we will be relaxing. But the tablet is not purely a device for disconnection. Modern news consumers also want more active experiences along with the passive ones. The tablet is flexible and affords total connectivity as well.

William Powers and I exchange frequent e-mails on everything from the state of storytelling to the eternal qualities of print.

Mario Garcia: Let’s talk about the appealing sense of disconnect that you so often refer to. How do you see paper allowing us to disconnect?

William Powers: I believe that paper allows us to be alone in a way we’re seldom alone anymore. It quiets the mind. And people are hungry for that. True, we all love all these devices, including me and my family. But they’re also driving us crazy.

How do you strike a balance between being connected and disconnected? That is what my book is about.

I look back at seven moments in history when a new technology came along posing a similar challenge to the one we face now. At each moment I focus on one philosopher who had some useful practical ideas about how to deal with this in everyday life. They range from Plato to Shakespeare to Thoreau. And, of course, I mention Gutenberg. While we always talk about the printing press itself as Gutenberg’s ultimate contribution to civilization, I argue his real achievement was allowing all of us to have the inward experience of reading, that delightful moment of being alone with a page.

As we learn more about the habits of tablet users, we see that they spend considerable time with their tablets in the evening. The tablet has become the ultimate lean-back platform. It is mobile telephones and computers during the working hours, followed by print and tablets in the evening. So we know that there is a sense that the tablet, too, like print, allows one to disconnect, to lean back and relax. Do you agree that perhaps the tablet comes the closest to a digital platform that provides some of the disconnection of print?

Powers: Yes, based on the emerging user habits you mention, as well as personal experience, these first-generation tablets have been a giant step forward for digital reading. My thesis is that as digital devices mature, the experience they offer will get closer and closer to the immersive type of engagement print on paper has offered for centuries.

As everyone who grew up reading hard-copy books and newspapers knows, there’s nothing better than connecting with information in a way that feels relatively disconnected — focused, peaceful and calm. This is an experience people will always value highly, so the better tablets are at providing it, the better for news outlets and other providers of digital content seeking to build audiences of faithful readers.

Having said that, I would note that we are still in the early stages of this transition, and these technologies have a long way to go. Some day in the not-so-distant future, the tablets we’re using today will seem laughably primitive. In fact, tablets may be replaced by a more advanced kind of a device we can’t even envision because it hasn’t been invented yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tablet, as we know it today, turns out to be the eight-track tape of the digital age.

How do you see the role of long-form reading—as in long narratives—in the future, both for print and tablets? We know from early research that long stories seem to do well on tablets, whereas they rarely did online. Are we going to see a renaissance of long-form journalism, specifically in the tablets?

Powers: I do think we’re going to see a great flowering of long-form journalism in the digital medium. It’s already begun, and I’m certain it will ramp up hugely when the economy revives.

Long-form storytelling wasn’t an accidental development—it’s as old as civilization, because it meets a fundamental human need. We’re not just here to be stimulated and entertained in the short-attention-span ways that have dominated the digital era so far. We’re here to understand our world, the societies we live in and ourselves. Understanding comes from time, attention and thoughtful reflection. It comes from storytelling that goes long and deep.

As we build out the digital world, I’m confident there’s going to be more of that kind of storytelling than ever before. The public’s love affair with tablets is an early glimpse of that future. Read more


Haik: Washington Post web team a ‘disruption layer’ in the newsroom

At a London conference, Washington Post executive producer for digital news Cory Haik said the Post’s website will most likely be responsively designed by the end of 2013.

Haik delivered a keynote address at the news:rewired conference today at the headquarters of MSN UK. Her presentation, “Always in Beta (that’s good news),” highlighted several of the Post’s most notable digital initiatives  – including @MentionMachine and the White House Visitors Log.

Since at least one of the projects in her presentation was iPad-only, Haik was asked if the Post plans to get its apps and content onto other tablets.

“Responsive design is really the answer to most of that, and we’re moving in that direction,” she said. “By the end of 2013 we have a pretty good chance of being responsively designed on our site.” Read more


Why the updated ABC News iPad app changes by time of day

Building a good app starts with asking yourself the right questions.

The most fundamental one: What does my audience want? That’s the problem that people at ABC News have tried to solve since launching an iPad app almost two years ago.

But the snag was, there’s not just one answer to that question.

“We realized that people are using the app in different ways at different points of the day,” Joe Ruffolo, ABC’s senior vice president of digital, told me.

So now ABC has started asking a different question: What does my audience want, when? The result is the new ABC News iPad app, released Thursday, which shifts to different formats at different times of day:

The updated ABC News app has different editions at different times of day.
  • Weekday mornings until noon, it emphasizes top headlines and weather — need-to-know information to get you out the door.
  • Midday, from noon to 8 p.m., it features updated news, adds some lifestyle and feature stories, and introduces more video content.
  • Evenings after 8 p.m., the “primetime edition” kicks in, with a prominent video player designed for the lean-back experience when tablet usage peaks.
  • Weekends have a mix of the other three approaches, with a variety of content.

I could see this day-parting strategy opening up some new revenue opportunities as well, giving ABC the option to sell different sponsorships at different rates for each time window. For now, the app has one exclusive launch sponsor, but the company may explore that later, Ruffolo said.

Earlier: News apps are starting to update content when users change location | Orange County Register reinvents evening news cycle with curated iPad app Read more