June 21, 2011

A new product launching today, Onswipe, helps news publishers easily set up a tablet-friendly version of their websites for iPad users and will help sell premium ads on those sites.

The Onswipe cover page peels back to reveal the table of contents.

You may have come across the Onswipe interface already if you’ve recently used an iPad to visit a WordPress blog. It creates an app-like experience on the Web, with lots of photo and video thumbnails, minimalist article presentation and touch-based interaction through dragging and swiping. Onswipe sites welcome users with a full-screen “cover” page, leading to a table of contents and the individual article pages.

Until now Onswipe has been available only as a WordPress plugin, but today it launches as a platform for any site, from personal blogs to national news.

The company is announcing partnerships with several major publishers and advertisers as it launches today, according to Quinten Farmer, Director of Strategic Partnerships.

I think news publishers will want to test-drive Onswipe for several reasons.

It’s free. Everything is free for publishers of all sizes, Farmer said. The company will make its money from optional advertising partnerships.

Farmer described Onswipe as a no-cost alternative to creating and marketing native apps.

Leaving the App Store behind will be difficult for many publishers because millions of people browse for apps there. But if you’re spending money to develop a native app simply to present your existing content with no new functionality, you may be better off with a free Web app.

A screenshot of the setup page for Onswipe.

It’s simple. Onswipe claims you can get your basic tablet site up and running in under 3 minutes. The system is supposed to integrate seamlessly with WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and many other content management systems. Pages can also take feeds from popular social networks.

It could bring in new revenue. There may be many ways to present content on an iPad, but Onswipe also promises to help sites make money with an integrated, premium advertising platform.

“The problem with advertising on the desktop Web is, it hasn’t been beautiful and it hasn’t been engaging,” Farmer said. Onswipe will deliver beauty and interactivity in ads, like a glossy magazine ad brought to life, he said.

An example of an interactive ad, with video, in Onswipe.

Behind this is a new ad platform that enables publishers to upload background art for an ad and add modules such as a video or a map on top. Ads can even be geo-located to show the user a map of business locations near them, Farmer said. One movie studio will be running movie ads, for example, that show the nearest theater to see a film.

The company’s hope is that publishers can charge more for premium ads like this than standard Web display ads. Both Onswipe and publishers can sell ads, splitting the revenue. Farmer said specific figures for the revenue share are still being worked out, but generally whoever sells the ad keep will keep the largest share.

It works on multiple mobile platforms. While Onswipe is best known for its elegant tablet design, it also can provide a customized presentation for touchscreen smartphones.

By now many publishers at least have a simple, mobile-friendly website. And smartphone news consumers value utility and quick access to information, not the laid-back, immersive browsing that is Onswipe’s strength. Still, for a publisher that wants a mobile site and a tablet site without hassle, this could be a good solution.

It stays entirely on your Web domain. There’s no URL redirect to the service’s site. “Onswipe has no interest in being the destination,” Farmer said. When visitors come to your site on an iPad, they automatically see the Onswipe presentation.

Also, tablet users who arrive through a link to an article will go directly to that article and not be redirected to a mobile homepage, avoiding a shortcoming of many other mobile-reformatted websites.

It’s flexible. Farmer said the tool allows each site owner to customize branding, logos, color schemes and fonts. There are several presentation options for each of the three main page types.

It won’t be as flexible as a native app built from scratch. And that’s probably the biggest downside of Onswipe for professional publishers — it’s a prepackaged solution that can be reformatted to their liking, but not rebuilt.

That said, as a basic way to deliver your content in a tablet-optimized format, Onswipe delivers a lot of features at the price (free) all cash-strapped publishers like these days.

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Jeff Sonderman (jsonderman@poynter.org) is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
Jeff Sonderman

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