Monday, September 5, 2011

Reading on the iPad Part 7: Fast Company: applying my WSJ reading habits

Recently Fast Company magazine offered me a sweet deal to try them out. In spite of trying to cut down on subscriptions, I decided to investigate whether Fast Company could replace one of my existing subscriptions, or provide new insights without adding significantly to my reading load. I find the magazine a fun read. But I do have to be ruthless in my subscription management.

There is no Fast Company app for the iPad. Utilizing the table of contents and full article offerings of the web site, I've found I can read it quickly and usefully following the same workflow I use for The Wall Street Journal:
  • Read the summaries in the table of contents, 
  • open the articles I desire in background tabs.
I have chosen to err on the side of missing a tasty tidbit and not following links with insufficient justification up front. I think I'd prefer a style interface if one were available. But for now, "dispatch from table of contents" works well enough.

This concludes a very brief part 7.  Let's go right on to Reading on the iPad Part 8: Boston Business Journal: Generic trounces clever!

Reading on the iPad Part 8: Boston Business Journal: Generic trounces clever!

A one year experiment reading the Boston Business Journal is coming to an end for me. BBJ is a fine publication, but I am letting my subscription run out without renewing, following a useful keep/cancel criterion I found in The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. In Chapter 6, "The Low-Information Diet," he says:
It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.
I've paraphrased this into a question to ask myself as I pick up each new issue of a magazine, "Can I point to an article containing at least one significant idea that is relevant, or important to what I'm doing these days in a way that changes what I do?"

With Fast Company, the answer is "yes" from every issue. But for the things I'm doing right now, the answer is a weekly "no" from the Boston Business Journal. That said, it remains fine publication with lots of information that may become relevant to me in the future.

This experiment gave me the opportunity to try out reading The Boston Business Journal on the iPad using a different method from any of the other publications: The iBooks PDF reader.

Like many of the other publications I've mentioned, The Boston Business Journal offers paper-edition subscribers online access to the full content in various forms. There is actually a multi-tiered offering with limited digital access to everyone, or low-cost access to most content, or a premium subscription that offers everything from the print edition and more. My one-year experiment was a premium subscription at a bargain price offered as a promotion.

Every week I received email that announced the new issue and contained links to article highlights and my online subscription page. The subscription page contained links to the most recent five issues as "View Online" or "View PDF". Interestingly, if you tap "View Online" you get an error message:
Unfortunately iPhone and iPad devices do not support flash,
which is used by our current digital edition. To read your
digital edition, use the same URL on any laptop or PC
For information about non-flash solutions, namely mobile
Smartphone applications, which are compatible with iPhone
and iPad devices, please visit
whether your digital edition will be available as a
Smartphone application, please contact the publisher
That turns out to be a rather silly and un-helpful error message. If you follow the link, you land at a web page clearly intended for magazine publishers interested in establishing a business relationship to create an iPad app for their publication.

If, instead you go back and tap on "View PDF" instead of "View Online", a very usable verbatim rendering of the entire publication loads into Safari, and a control bar appears at the top of the page offering additional options for viewing. That control bar vanishes pretty quickly, but if you tap in the top half inch of the page, it comes back. When you tap on "Open in iBooks" you're switched over to the iBooks reader which offers precisely the kind of nice interface one gets from, or the iPad apps for Wired or The Economist.

The interface is most similar to the app. You get a bit-for-bit rendering of the paper edition which sometimes takes a moment to scale and render into an in-focus page. There is a thumbnail view at the bottom, but I like the thumbnail view better because the icons are bigger. There is no linking within the document. The edition of IEEE Spectrum offers rudimentary, but very helpful links:  article access from the table of contents, skipping to the continuation of an article from the "Continued on page xxx" link, and a return to where you left off in the main body of the publication from the "Continued from page yyy" link. No such links are present in the PDF edition of the Boston Business Journal and I miss them.

Although the PDF iBooks interface to the Boston Business Journal is rudimentary, it scores pretty well against my basic evaluation criteria.
  • My need is for a "turn all the pages" interface, and that's what is provided.
  • The table of contents is the same as the print edition. It doesn't do anything extra, but unlike Forbes, it doesn't do any extra work that creates problems.
  • The rendering is not immediate, but it's fast enough. It takes about the same amount of time to wait for full rendering as it would for me to turn a physical page. It's no better than print, but no worse.
  • The interface is sensible and obvious with a small bar at the top with controls and navigation aids.
I would very much like to try out an issue of The Wall Street Journal as a plain PDF file in iBooks. I suspect I'd find it much more comfortable and usable than the existing WSJ iPad app. Such a rendering might be usable enough to return me to the "turn all the pages and let my eye work with the typography" approach.

This concludes my 8-part blog posting, Reading on the iPad. Thank you for taking the time to read it. If I may make a mercenary pitch:  If you enjoyed the article, and would like to encourage me to write more, please click on an ad, or visit my Cafe Press store, and buy some swag with a Poetnerd one-liner.