Saturday, September 19, 2009

Can magazine publishers pick up where Google's FastFlip leaves off?

Google recently unveiled its Fast Flip experiment, which is a new way of "flipping" through web pages much like you'd thumb through a print magazine. The few reviews I've read have panned the user experience. But I like what Publishing 2.0's Scott Karp says about Fast Flip:
It doesn’t matter so much whether Google succeeds or fails with this particular experiment. What matters is that they are trying to solve the right problem.
He's dead on. The Web is a non-linear, hyper-textual medium. Great for discovering related content from different publishers. But pretty lousy for recreating a contiguous reading experience. Hence the abysmal stat that most content sites have an average of 2 to 3 pageviews per visit. (Five pageviews per visit is considered really good!)

Fast Flip has the right idea of flipping through content. But what's missing is linearity. They're just a bunch of disconnected web pages loosely organized around a topic. It's frustrating because it seems like a linear experience, but it's not at all. They're packaged, but not packaged well. Because they're packaged by a computer.

Magazine publishers of course, use humans for packaging content--we call them editors and artists. What we humans should be doing is riffing on Google's experiment, but going one better, creating and packaging "mini mags" in digital form -- not digital replicas, with their clunky user interfaces -- but creating multi-screen segments of content. I'll call these content tranches.  (Let's see if this bit of jargon sticks!)

I'm not sure a content tranche should be a magazine replica per se. I doubt it, actually. Rather, a content tranche could be multiple screens on the same article, or could be 4 to 6 different articles packaged together around the same subject matter, or could be a linear 5-page slide show, or what have you. Or could be videos interspersed. I'm not prescribing a specific formula for what content tranches should be, or how they should look. They will vary by publication and by audience. But I suspect they will NOT be a direct recreation of a 3- or 4-page print article. They'll be unique to the Web.

As Karp urges us, we should be experimenting with both the user interface AND the content itself, packaging it up in these content tranches, making them easy to discover, flip through, or consume.

By doing so, we'll be able to not only double, triple, quadruple (or more) our pageviews (good for ad inventory), but we'll create engaging, satisfying web experiences that will attract and retain users (good for ad performance). We'll create value for our brands in the eyes of our users. And maybe we'll even call them "readers" again.

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