Thursday, November 30, 2006

FAQ #2

The FAQs are getting there. They should be up real soon now. Previous blog on this was wrong about one thing. Word and the discipline of putting the FAQs in a Word doc was more fruitful and more necessary than predicted. Before long we will write our FAQs through a wiki, but 'pro tem' the Word document format is a useful staging post.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A to B

The product reviews in this magazine are a compulsive read. Thorough, witty and to the point. Try this one on the Sinclair A-Bike. Which the reviewer finds "...oddly reminiscent of the C5 -- a superb idea, quite well executed but impractical in the real world." Ouch.

Toot, toot!

It also tells you how to build your own.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Usability and the user

David Weinberger's Joho the Blog often has interesting stuff about content, labelling, usability and web styles and fashions. Yesterday he blogged a devastating critique of Microsoft's new music player from Andy Ihnatko in the Chicago Sun-Times. The bottom line (in Weinberger's summary):

Zune sucks because it was designed to meet the music industry's needs, not the users'.

Ihnatko's review is convincing, but then I am not completely enamoured of the iPod either. But this comment about making the user not the publisher the focus of design (obvious really, but worth saying) got me to thinking about how we can make sure that the User, with a capital U, is at the forefront of our design when we improve our service. The great thing about a web service delivered over the web is that improvements can be steady and incremental...Several of our innovations since the summer seem to most definitely meet this criterion of improving the user's experience (navigable contents pages; clickable links for emails/urls/phone numbers; printing of pages from PDF of the page image; and our initial plan of treating the digital magazine as being part of an individual's account to which more content will be easily added -- these design points do seem to be grounded in what user's will need as they digitally encounter magazines). So we may feel that we have been moving in the right direction, but there surely are some dramatic and also some more subtle ways of enhancing the usability and usefulness of the digital magazine that we have not yet considered, or thought about. Some of these enhancements are about how digital magazines will be used alongside other digital content forms -- maybe not Zune, but iPods, for sure, as they get more into our bloodstream......All of this digital-stuff will continue to evolve, adjust, integrate and adapt.

Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Press Gazette -- requiem

The Guardian reports and the Press Gazette site confirms that the paper is to close. I suppose that it is possible that a bid will emerge, post mortem, but it must be much harder to revive a title once its journalists and staff have been let go. So this may be the end of a valuable magazine.....

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Google Book Search

Google have changed some aspects of their reading-interface. See their blog announcement.

There are a couple of aspects to the new style that I dont like. Google Book Search now lets you scroll down a book in the way that you might scroll down a PDF file with a slider. It doesnt help me that you get pages in a cut-off situation and not always regularly in the middle of your viewing area. Just because we have had this system for PDF files doesnt make it right. Also, and a related issue but a deeper objection, Google Book Search has moved away from the 1:1 mapping of print pages to web pages (an article of faith with Exact Editions). This was one of the key features of the original Google Book Search in my livre. So its a real drawback that there is no obvious way of making a direct link to page 34 of Skottowe's Life of Shakespeare. "Go find page 34!" Is less helpful than a direct link.

One more grouse: most of the examples that Google give in their blog entry do not work for readers in the UK. Presumably they have been disabled for copyright reasons though why a book on Geronimo published in 1906 should be in copyright outside the US beats me. There is going to have to be a consistent and sensible solution to its copyright woes before the Google system can be widely accepted. Do you mean to say we might have to move to the USA to read most of the books on Google Book Search?

When we first designed the Exact Editions system we paid a lot of attention to Google Book Search (Google Print as it then was). It looks like our paths are diverging. Magazines (and newspapers) make bold use of the double-page spread so a magazine and newsprint system is not going to work well with pages viewed on a scroll.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Press Gazette on the brink

Greenslade has a gloomy but well-informed account of the financial prospects of the Press Gazette.

It will be a great shame if this informative and well-written magazine ceases publication. And if it does, it will be the first time that this has happened to one of 'our' magazines.

One of Greenslade's comment-makers has this opinion:

Funnily enough your blog has helped kill it Roy - people in the media want online news about the media and they want it cheap. Guardian Media plus media blogs = death for UKPG, despite it being a v good product.
{Posted by POLIS on November 21}

This seems harsh. The Guardian is after all a succesful commercial enterprise. Magazine journalism about journalism can surely survive in a digital age. But it is a tough assignment when half the audience are actively blogging and the other half spend much of the day consulting free web resources. It can only be done if multiple revenue streams are properly aligned: advertising revenues, subscription income, trade show or 'awards ceremony' profits (this has been important for the Press Gazette for some years) and digital income. One of the challenges of magazine publishing today is that all these revenue streams can appear to be under threat from web-based services. So discerning and embracing the appropriate web strategy is clearly imperative.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Page Turning -- does it help the reader?

Many of the digital magazine systems that use a 'file download' approach allow the user to 'turn the page' herself, eg by pointing and clicking to the bottom right hand corner of a virtual page. The page then moves across the screen before your amazed eyes to lay out a new two page spread (or a full single page if that's your preference). Click on this link to find a page-turning example.

At an early stage our programmers produced code for such a page-turning option. It would be straightforward to introduce it to the Exact Editions system. It does not significantly impact on the computer resources used, but we are not convinced that it really helps the user. We have a suspicion that it is used by some of the other systems because the moment or two that it takes for the page-turning to be complete allows the software to retrieve and build the next page. The page-turning effect is really being used to conceal or distract from the fact that the software doesnt work fast enough in real time. A sour-grapes reaction? Perhaps but there is no question that a speed reader, who is actually using the web to read a substantial body of material, is soon going to be irritated by the mechanical sameness of a page-turning eleent to the software. Google do not have such a page-turning feature on their Google Book Search, but Google is not right about everything. If you think we should offer page-turning please leave a note in the comments area.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Newspaper and Magazine advertising friendly to Yahoo?

Battelle spreads the news: Yahoo unveil an alliance with US newspapers clearly aimed at jostling Google's attempts to corale the local classified ads market. Google's attempts to syndicate newspaper ads is not a promising runner (earlier comments on the magazine episode apply). Yahoo looks a bit different.

Its not easy to be sure what the Yahoo deal amounts to (and coalitions of publishers often come unstuck), but the thing that sounds promising about this is that it seems a synergistic development is planned. Both parties are moving forward. Classified ads in newspapers work and the Yahoo Hotjobs site works, exchanging information and leads can improve the service on both sides. Of course, newspapers still need an effective way of deploying their print ads on the web. That goes without saying, but a partnership with a business that is looking to improve traffic to the newspapers looks like the way to go...Yahoo has been losing ground to Google, but its not yet Game, Set and Match.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Read/write web

This is another of the themes that one encounters in explanations of Web 2.0. The idea (roughly) is that Web 1.0 was a read-only web and the new era is a read/write era.

Dont know about that, but there are questions that one could ask about magazines in such an environment. Would publishers want to encourage this kind of user response? Will digital magazines, to the extent that they can be shared, become vandalised beyond saving? Will users really want to share reactions? Or read others reactions? Will this type of interaction bring the magazine world even closer to the blogosphere?

There are some solutions out there already that enable this kind of public annotation. Fleck is one. Their solution might be one way of taking the Personals Page to the next level....see this example.

Well, having quickly checked this out. It looks as though my 'Sticky Yellow Notes' survive under Firefox, but when I check out the annotated url with Safari, I get the Fleck toolbar, but not the note. Stuff on the Fleck site makes me doubtful that it will yet work with IE. But since I am now a confirmed Mac user I dont use IE often.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Classifieds are a lot more fun when they are clickable

The London Review of Books is famous for its small ads, its personals. They are witty, elusive and often double-edged. One is never quite sure whether the advertisers are completely having us on, or not.

They are just as amusing on the web, and possibly more effective: but somebody should find an interactive alternative to the Box Number system. This is just too retro. Do the missives accumulate in the "Box" for a week or so, to be forwarded some days later to the box's owner? This is a very 19th Century modus operandi.

Although the personal ads make us laugh, it is the holiday properties that seem particularly compelling. Try clicking on the Muskokaprovence link, or the gite-french link, we did and now are sorely tempted to book next summer's holiday on the spot. Those properties with a web site, an email address and a clickable phone number will win in the popularity stakes. The callable phone number is particularly enticing.

I suppose there is a message here for the publisher planning the next generation of personal ads. Naughty Lola, in the next decade, is going to need a web site, an email box (replacing the numbered box) and a pseudonomised Skype account.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Economics and ecological impacts

Greenslade, who blogs at the Guardian media section, has an item on Sony's decision to close its official Playstation magazine in the US.

As Roy Greenslade notes this will be worrying news for the computer games magazines. The cover mount with a trial game or demo has been a crucial asset, and incentive sales tool, for some years. Are music magazine publishers also moving away gradually from the music CD cover mount? It is bound to happen as digital distribution takes over.

The challenge is to reposition the music or games magazine as a digital resource which is not dependent on a physical disk. This is an ecological benefit, which forces some creative publishing and business strategy on the industry.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

FAQ #1

Yesterday we started work on an FAQ. Our project-leader posted the first set of questions (questions without answers as our starting point) as a Word document. All the subsequent work - group thinking about the right questions, not much about the answers yet, took place in email. In fact, the list was soon being amended and re-ordered in lengthy emails; so we dropped the Word doc.

It is probable that we will carry on working on the FAQ without using Word. In fact, Word and Excel, which five or ten years ago seemed to be the essential tools of daily business, are now increasingly like formal clothes which one will only don, reluctantly, for a funeral or special occasion (eg drafting a new contract, or producing a five year plan). Chances are that this is not a view limited to web startups, and there is a cultural shift away from desktop applications towards web solutions. So Google's move towards documents and spreadsheets is timely. I registered with Writely months before it was taken over by Google. Unfortunately, if I go to use it now I get this message "Safari support for Google Docs is coming soon!" Google's takeover of Writely happened about the same time as I switched from a Windows machine to a Mac. From Internet Explorer to Safari.

Wikipedia has an informative explanation of the origins and applications of FAQs.....

Our FAQ needs more work, but it should be ready within the next month.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Wonderful adobe architecture from West Africa.

Web 2.0 and HCI

Or Human Collective Intelligence, as it now is, not Human Computer Interface/Interaction as it was a month ago. The Web 2.0 conference has finished and this post mortem from Tim O'Reilly caught my attention. There is a powerful attraction in the idea that Web 2.0 is broader than simply 'social content', or the 'User Generated Content' that seems to be the most obvious feature of services like Flickr or MySpace. If Web 2.0 is about collective intelligence there is obviously a major challenge in capturing the legacy of the past and the undigitised cultural knowledge that is stored in books, libraries and museums (cf Wikipedia, Google Book Search etc). Or indeed in newspaper and magazine archives.

So, we find this broader vision for Web 2.0 attractive, but the new meaning for HCI is amusingly at odds with the old acronym. The old meaning sees computers as objects/tools with which we interact and frankly they are pretty obtuse and stupid, which is why we would like to have them smarten up, soften up and we try to conjure up a human interface to them (WYSIWYG if not smiling paper clips). But now HCI is about us, as a group or a species, and about the computer network as a primary manifestation of human intelligence, and the network as cultural phenomenon. Its getting to be quite fluffy, dont you think?

If we have much more of this we will see a revival of interest in the noosphere and Teilhard de Chardin. He was clearly thinking along Web 2.0 lines.

Today's Flyfisher

I am going to get my waders on and try to land some of those North Atlantic bass from Cape Cod.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Blogging, Magazines and Newsprint

David Sifry the founder of Technorati has just released his quarterly State of the Blogosphere report. There is lots of detail and here are a few of the highlights:

== Technorati now tracks 57 million blogs
== About 1.3 million postings happen every day (so most of the 57 million blogs are really slow moving)
== Japanese blogging is nearly as numerous and noisy as English-language blogging (39% of blog postings are in english as opposed to 33% japanese).

The report gives a lot of attention to trends and the way the blogosphere is maturing. It is maturing. Magazine publishers who worry about the 'threat' that the web poses to their business should focus on that point. Blogging is not inimical to print and now that it is maturing, it is that much easier to see how it can work with the grain of print and conventional media.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Shop for Digital Magazines

Our main service to the magazine industry is to be building a kind of shop where the public can buy subscriptions to digital editions. Today we have 24 titles, by the end of the day we may have 25 or 26. In a few months we will have 100+, and a while later we will have a lot (thousands). So it is still early days and our shop is still a small shop, but the reassuring thing is that the customers are coming, their frequency is increasing and we are now starting to see purchasers acquire 2 or 3 titles on the same visit.

We have not yet had someone buy 6 at a time, but that will come....We will let you know when it does.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Web 2.0 and referencing

Web 2.0 was a fairly simple, but slightly fuzzy, idea that has already become very complex. Today there is a big high level conference on it -- the third Web 2.0 conference. In my (probably excessively) simple-minded view the basic idea is that NOW, about 10 years after the web got going, it is possible to build new types of web appliances, objects, communities, information systems and processes. New, new stuff in which the web is taken to be the primary platform and action space. Web 2.0 sees new and wonderful environments blooming in which the users and service providers are intimately involved in a collaborative and rapidly evolving richness.....Before we were building the web, now we 'stand on the shoulders of giants' and deploy web tools to do all kinds of stuff that nobody every thought of (like build an artificial world, or have a 3D zoomable atlas of the world to the resoluton of a sun lounger or flowerbed, or grow an endless, multilingual and ever improving encylopedia).

The Exact Editions system is not dependent on Web 2.0 -- magazine back issues needed to be archived even in Web 1.0 -- but in one crucial respect the Exact Editions platform helps Web 2.0 to flourish. Our system is one in which every print page from a magazine or newspaper has an equivalent and uniquely corresponding web page. No other newsprint or magazine system works in this way (although Google Book Search and Amazon Search Inside do work in this way -- for books). Magazine and newsprint systems all put a digital download inside a browser or onto your hard disk, they do not lay it out on the web as a sequence of referenceable pages. This is crucially important in the world of Web 2.0, because anything may be usable for some other person for purposes that may not have been considered. Everything in Web 2.0 should be componentised, referenceable and isolable. That is what we do with urls -- reference them, they are after all 'Uniform Resource Locators', and it is by engineering and manipulating existing web resources that Web 2.0 weaves its magic.

It took us quite a while to see that this 'referenceability' might be our USP, but about 6 months into our evolution we made a presentation to Jonathan Newby at CMPi, a trade publisher. When he had heard our presentation he said simply: "You mean every page can be referenced, that is an important and distinctive feature." At the time I thought he had made an interesting observation, but perhaps it was really the heart of the matter. We knew that in the Exact Editions platform all our pages were urls, but we had not seized on the importance of this citeability/referenceaility issue -- an observer told us that this was really key.

The more that stuff can be referenced, the more it matters and the more can be done with it. Web 2.0 can roll all over it and mash it up. Magazine communities, membership blogs, readership wikis and tagged publications all can use the url-to-equivalent-page convention.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Gotcha Headline

The new evening paper Thelondonpaper comes from News International, the same stable as The Times and the Sun.

Some of its headlines owe more to the Sun than to its stately sibling the Thunderer. The lead story about Martina Navritilova's outrage at geneticists research into the sexual preferences of sheep, in last Friday's issue, was in the Borat class of outrageous cheek and very funny:

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Google's Book Search Reviewed

Peter Jacso is a Professor of Information Science and a very thorough and perceptive critic of information services especially in the research library context.

He has just produced a thoroughly devastating review of Google Book Search, which suggests that the Google plan to create an archive of all published literature is wildly off-beam. Jacso gives many examples of absurd results from the GBS service, Even with simple searches, there is enough confusion because of the ignorance, illiteracy and innumeracy of the software........ Read the piece. Jacso knows what he is talking about when he examines the way Boolean searches work with Google -- disastrously and wrongly. Google prides itself on its technical proficiency but the nonsensical un-numerical and illogical results produced from the Book Search service merit public explanation and prompt repair.

If the Google Book Search project is poorly implemented that is going to be a disappointment to the publishers and libraries who have supported the project, but is there perhaps a deeper problem? Jacso mentions but does not dwell on Google's unwillingness to document its activities. Is Google working on an assumption that simply feeding stuff into its search engine is all that is required? And that Page Rank will do the rest -- in effect that the pattern of citations and user behaviour will provide the necessary order to make a useable resource?

Could this disdainful neglect of catalog(ue)s, lists and the public bibliographic record be simply a matter of hubris based on excessive faith in Page Rank? One would hope not.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Advertising and the pressure on publishing revenues

The Los Angeles Times is for sale, classified and displayed ads are under pressure. Magazine and newspaper publishers and TV companies feel the threat of the web in the search for advertising dollars.

There are at least two suitable weapons of retaliation, readily available, which publishers have been slow to seize on and wield. Print publishers should make sure that their advertisements appear on the web exactly as they do in print and are usefully clickable when they appear. Web distribution of the print ads reinforces the value of the print service. Useful 'clickability' means making the urls, the emails and even the phone numbers an instant means of reader response: a simple click-through. Second, why not deploy Google text ads as an additional source of revenue? It has been interesting to see the way this works for Thelondonpaper -- try a search on 'dentist' or 'Arsenal' to see how Google copes with the London context. Google text ads have been running on this service for the last week and they are mostly 'spot on'.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reddit acquired by Conde Nast

I got this from David Weinberger's blog Joho.

Conde Nast (with the slogan 'There's a connection that our readers have with our magazines') recently purchased the Wired web site. Perhaps Conde Nast has some strategic plan. The Reddit acquisition looks interesting, and complementary to a culture of web-delivered magazines. This is a forum on which all and any magazine article (newspaper story, blog entry, TV program, etc. can be analysed and controverted). But surely Conde Nast now need a reliable platform on which any magazine (theirs or someone else's) can be accessed through the web? And it would not work if that was a proprietary publisher-owned platform would it? The platform that meets this need would have to be one in which individual magazine articles, pages and issues can be consistently cited......Reliably citeable web publishing platforms are in short supply. Connections need direct links and reliable citations.


Two new magazines for our shop in one day. The pace is hotting up.

If you read nothing else in insideout, you should certainly read the interview with Barbara Frost of Water Aid.


When I first heard about this magazine the name did not mean anything, but of course my wife, sister and daughter knew exactly what the word means: (according to juteworld) The longitudinal edges of a fabric formed in such a way that the component thread(s) ravel.
I like the way that juteworld's component threads ravel. Most things unravel but well-behaved or selvedged threads dont. They ravel.

But I had no need of a dictionary to appreciate how beautiful the magazine is, its full of fabulous stuff and fabrics, and here you can see a gorgeous Hudson Bay blanket -- as a child I slept under one. One was enough.