The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The third vision

Now here you go! Take the best bits of that Sports Illustrated interactive magazine demo and Pictory, mash them up, add attractive depth-of-field and you get BERG’s vision for the future of the magazine:

I actually feel like it’s hard to judge, because there are two very significant confounding variables in the mix:

  • the warm, cinematic production, and
  • the device! I mean, look at that e-reader. I don’t care what kind of magazine you put on that thing—I’ll take it.

However, I’ve done the regression, and even when those elements are factored out, it’s still excellent. In particular, I love the concept of “heating” content. When content is cold, it sits on the page, crystalline and beautiful. When it’s warm, it bubbles and steams and you can pull it apart and push it around. Wonderful!

The strength of the video is really that it speaks—well I mean, specifically that Jack Schulze speaks. Compare it to this, the Microsoft equivalent, which is all mute gloss. What are the animating ideas? What can I extract from it, lacking wall-size screens and paper-thin LCDs here and now in 2010? Not much.

I do disagree with one premise of BERG’s, which seems to be that magazine-style content is generally Quite Good and just needs to be presented in a useful, modern way. I do think there’s demand for depth and design, of course. But increasingly, when I shift from screen-reading to magazine-reading it’s more than just the interface that stops me cold. It’s the voice. There’s a tone and distance to non-fiction magazine writing—even very good non-fiction magazine writing—that seems increasingly old-fashioned in 2010. If I was advising a magazine on strategy, I’d tell them to crack open the black box of content, of writing, and redesign that, too. (More to say about that at some point, but for now, scope out the BERG video.)

But really: this is all a side-show, because the star of the video is that table, isn’t it? I want one.


That table is the thing. If it exists we almost don’t need readers—our subscriptions follow us from place to place, landing on the magic tables wherever we light.

I want to break open the black box of magazine writing, too. The magazines I have long admired too often adopt a kind of “angel of history” voice, beweeping our outcast state—a transcendental melancholy that feels not so much inappropriate as unearned.

I’d be into breaking open the black box of magazine writing too.

It’s one of the frustrating things about being a writer who primarily works alone – no editorial oversight. Sure, I get praise and approving links, or flames. But even that is mostly about the ideas at hand, rather than the quality of the writing itself.

So instead one pokes around and reads Jakob Nielsen and however many Pro Blogger sites in an effort to learn something. Plus the standbys like The Elements of Style.

Tim Carmody says…

I think this is a key insight expressed in the video:

  • Attempts to replicate “page turns” in digital contexts don’t work very well, and aren’t authentic to the experience of the screen;
  • Scrolling is equally intuitive, already well established with web pages, instapaper, iPhone applications, etc., and IS authentic to the possibilities and actualities of screen reading.

This speaks directly to some of the choices/compromises of reading machines like the Kindle/Nook. This is a largely unnoticed paradox: reading machines insist equally upon replicating the interface of the page turn and violating the design integrity of the individual page, by making its content vary according to the font size and style.

Wouldn’t it be much more elegant to maintain the same pagination from the print to the electronic edition — so that we have, once again, a book that’s stable across platforms — AND maintain whenever possible the same design of individual pages; but still allow the reader to adjust the font size to his/her needs and preferences, by letting them scroll from one page to the next?

I don’t know, maybe that’s just me.

This is a largely unnoticed paradox: reading machines insist equally upon replicating the interface of the pageturn and violating the design integrity of the individual page, by making its content vary according to the font size and style.

Thank you for crystalizing an idea that I’ve been trying to get at obliquely in a number of contexts.

Though, I think that scrolling AND page turning gives you the worst of both worlds, like the many, many terrible designs of magazin websites with their scroll, hit a link, scroll.

On pagination, Amazon chose an unbelievably stupid system of having this new content pagination system that does not include a translation to other pages. Number are numbers, there should have been no problem getting a translation matrix for each book (content area 120-155 = page 6 of book).

Tim Carmody says…

Well, it works if you can do a continuous scroll — i.e. you scroll down to navigate through a page, and if you keep scrolling, you scroll to the next page. Like a PDF in Preview or Acrobat.

Annie Werner says…

I love the idea, and I think the design/formatting is wonderful; my only complaint is that people want everything all in one place–I think if they could integrate this magazine e-reader into something like the Microsoft Courrier or the Apple tablet (when they actually work right), you’d have a stellar combination that would be more useful and convenient. I don’t want to carry around this e-reader AND my future touchscreen computer tablet.

As for the writing, totally agree. Non-fiction writers need to adapt to their reader base, and readers these days respond better to things (and writing) that are more interactive (if that makes sense?).

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