I am writing today in defense of the magazine. It’s an aged format which in it’s heyday could be likened to the iPad - a compact and flashy new way to consume content. Unlike it’s predecessors - scrolls, books, and newspapers - magazines afforded a richer more visual presentation of thoughts and ideas. Every page printed in vivid color with a waxy finish and at a marginal cost. If I consider my favorite periodical circa 1993, Popular Science, I liken the experience to an Engadget.com that took a month to download. It’s 2010 and the magazine no longer resides in a world where news can travel at a physical stride. Printed matter has adapted but not evolved.
Magazines and newspapers play to their strengths of factual grounding and well produced substance. These traits take time and money two things that the internet circumvents exceedingly well. In our modern world the demand for entertaining media has elevated to a feverish pace. However the expectation still remains that things of value come with a premium. This will always be the case for well produced and well fact checked material. The problem arises in the delivery vehicle.
On the surface magazines are presented like a book - linearly. Page one follows page two, so on and so forth, but they are read in a very different manner. Take a moment to observe someone experiencing a magazine. You may be surprised to notice that they select their entry point at random and skim through until their next stop. Then why is it that initial forays into digitizing magazines (mag+ wired) attempt to preserve the false perception of linearity?
As famously described by US Sentator Ted Stevens, “the internet is a series of tubes.” Simplistic as it may appear this statement illuminates the ability of web navigation to be a meandering nebulous experience. Though the pipes metaphor is deceptive. It betrays the authentic complexity of the internet’s vast connections from one point to another with infinite interchanges in between. This behavior is nourished by sites with open ended architecture. For example, I may receive a link to a youtube video but end up spending thirty additional minutes consuming unexpected content. The beauty in this experience is that my path through the site is undesigned.
Mag+ and Wired Tablet Edition are praise worthy attempts. Though where I think they are missing the point is in putting emphasis on flamboyant executions as opposed to elegant interaction design. Advertisements with 3D rotations and 2001 style flash transitions are at best novel. I will give credit to Wired for integrating twitter and commenting. This is at least a step in the right direction. I’d argue that social aggregation ought to be a critical layer of the navigational experience.
Instead of a static table of contents there could be an aggregation of social activity both on the web and within the app. What are people reading the most? What are people talking about? What is resonating? This would give users multiple entry points into the magazine. On the matter of the granular interaction I think that links should be connected from article to article. One might skip from reading about dolphins to reading about lasers beams but not because they are in consecutive order. The mental model of magazine as linear experience must be exploded. Think of magazines as a ball of content with a vast network of tubes. The future is in embracing the serendipitous habits of readers.