Viewports and platforms

FLIPBOARD aggregates the aggregations. Adding to their processed Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn feeds are a series of publications, Flipboard Pages. They are derived from Twitter, but they have a bit of branding, and the presentation works well. Of course publishers have different takes on how to use Flipboard. The New Yorker, which does not want give away its content, sends a promotional Twitter feed to Flipboard and the result is a superficial version of the magazine. It’s about as much like the real magazine as TV network promos are like the actual shows.

The growing collection of publications at Flipboard are integrated nicely with their social network browsers and the iPad app (soon, they’ve announced, also an iPhone app). The result is a new kind of portal, but not like the old AOL or Yahoo, which tried to produce much of the content themselves. Flipboard is more of a viewport than a portal. It’s where you go to look at everything interesting to you. Using a blend of social filtering, topical heuristics and clever layout algorithms, Flipboard is a pleasant and useful way too look a lot of things.

Now there’s Float, which combines some of the aggregation aspects in a clever iPhone reader. And Zite, which uses a newspaper metaphor to aggregate. But neither adapts the publisher’s look and feel, and instead repackages everything like the old Reader’s Digest.

There are other viewports, and they all seem to have big ambitions. Some, like Pulse and Flud, are enriched RSS readers. Some like Editions (“A little bit of AOL right here at AOL”) are aggregator apps, like Flipboard. They’re cool and useful, but I am now getting a little confused by their intent to bring me all my content all the time. While I enjoy the recommendations of my friends, and I like the concept of creating a vantage point where you can connect to all the media, I miss the immersive experience of reading a good magazine or newspaper.

I miss the quick browsing of headlines and lede paragraphs. Or just looking at the pictures. Or, when I want to finish reading a story later, I miss putting the magazine in my briefcase and taking it with me. I miss opening it later on a plane that has no wifi. Or in the New York subway. Or at my desk when I am waiting for the conference call to begin.

I miss the rich typography and the design of printed publications. Flipboard uses some of the metaphors, but doesn’t try to take them too far, which is probably wise. Editions gets in its own way by trying to be too print-y. The fact is that digital design is different than print design. (What year is it now?)

The fact is that I don’t carry my iPad around everywhere. I can only spend so much time on reading on Android smartphone. In the end, I spend the most time on my laptop, and still happily read the New York Times Reader. Although it skips a lot of the pictures and all of the graphics of the web site, it’s a lot easier to read.

The New York Times has not produced a Flipboard Pages feed, yet, but they seem to have tried everything else. I’ve read it on the web, with their Adobe Air Reader, on iPad and iPhone apps, and even recently on the Android app with the text in Droid (shudder) Serif. And I even read occasionally in print, and would so more often if their home delivery department would figure out that I have moved. 

On the digital side, only the iPad and the web opinion and “Skimmer” sections are setting Times stories in Imperial, and that’s too bad. Georgia, a fine typeface, is not the text voice of the Times.

This design problem, however, is trivial compared to the production nightmare of sending content to all these targets. No wonder they all miss some elements of content and branding.

What I want is an easy-to-browse, easy-to-read version of the Times that is complete with all its art and photos and infographics. And I want it wherever I happen to be—on phone, tablet, laptop and desktop. And I want to be able to get to that complete, immersive, branded experience from every Twitter link and Flipboard Page.

Is that possible? Well, it turns out it is. The Times could adopt Treesaver, and slowly knit together its disparate publishing effort. And the viewports could integrate or just link to Treesaver stories, so that readers can get a richer, indigenous design.

This isn’t easy, of course, but it is a solution that works, and that is open source.

This month we’re (finally) launching two major Treesaver sites with a lot of updates to the code, and features that people have been asking for. Treesaver gives much of the immersive, branded experience of print—on all targets—phone, tablet, laptop, desktop. Anywhere you have a web browser. And the resources required to update a Treesaver publication are a fraction of what the big magazine publishers are using to produce a typical iPad app. Create once, publish many times.

So what are they waiting for?

Stand by for Treesaver announcements.