in General

On Reading- Gawker, and the Trifecta of Reading

… Blogs are emphasizing the trait that’s always defined them, the fact that they’re an ongoing flow of information instead of just a collection of published pages.

— Anil Dash, Gawker Is A Blog. Just Like Twitter.

It’s been two months since I last wrote about the importance of reading and how it is changing in the digital age, and I thought it was important to revisit the the topic. A few things have been rising up through the Internet that has caused me to delve into the topic further. I’ll start with the new, soon-to-be-released, site design for Gawker and the blogs under their ownership.

Nick Denton, the founder and publisher of Gawker Media, wrote a lengthy post (Why Gawker is Moving Beyond the Blog) about the site design, and why a shift was needed in how the content is being displayed. Anil Dash suspects that the change is brought on by a need to be more visually appealing to advertisers, but I think Nick Denton is being more honest with his motives when he says:

Our strength as an aggregator remains editorial curation; but we’re limited even in that by the blog format. The more short items we run, the more rapidly our high-value scoops are pushed off the page. There are no career distinctions made between our editorial aggregators and the expert packagers and creators of original work.

Most bloggers are only now discovering the importance of landing pages for new readers, and how to make the important content more prominent on their sites. No one likes seeing their best posts get buried down and displaced by all the new content coming to the surface. The discovery of some of the older and better works can be difficult in a lot of blog designs.

I think Nick Denton used that discovery to start the design process on the site (which he says hasn’t changed much in eight years. What is interesting to me is that a lot of the larger sites and web applications have been in the process of reworking their designs well in advance of the rest of us.

Gawker is focusing their content into the left panel, with a stream of headlines entering the right-side panel. Twitter has made their stream the focus on the left-side, while the main content can be displayed on the right. Facebook, to a lesser degree, is putting more emphasis on the stream in the center with other content being displayed on the right. The web is not the only one causing a shift in design, as seen through the application Reeder (which I will get to).

The shift in design not only helps people discover content more easily and keep them on the website longer, it makes reading content a better experience. If you look at the current design for Gawker, it takes a long time to scan through the full length of the page, and there is lots of scanning and reading happening before making a decision on where to click next. With videos, pictures, photos with captions, and headlines scattered in various patterns, it can be confusing as to where to go. With the new design, a choice has been made for you. You land on a page with a feature article shown, the option to click to the next feature article, or to quickly scan over a list of headlines on the right-hand side.

The shift makes it a much better reading experience. I am sure they will retain a higher percentage of people clicking over, as long as their content keeps up in quality. Denton appears to have a strategy developed to ensure the quality of the content remains high, too. The sites will be putting more emphasis on the scoops/features, without trying to create them on a daily basis. As he puts it:

One analogy might be the programming mix of some of the new networks. A channel such as AMC needs one or two hits (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) to make it a must-have for a cable system. But it would be way too expensive to fill the entire schedule with material of such quality. So it is with the Gawker sites. Each site needs a gigantic breakout every few months; a few more modest hits every week; but the daily news diet can be satisfied quite happily with short posts, blockquotes (linked to the original, of course) and republished material.

It sounds like Denton is aiming to create his evergreen posts that people will flock to immediately and be able to reference in the future. I am not a major reader of Gawker, but I am a reader of two of their other blogs, Lifehacker and io9. I look forward to seeing these site updates revealed throughout the entire site.

I, Reader

In a fantastic post, Alexander Chee writes about his love affair with books and the new romance sparking up between him and his iPad. Every word he wrote echoed my sentiment with reading. I highly suggest reading his article if reading novels is included as one of your favourite pass times. Here is one of the more memorable sentences included in it:

The device (his phone) I’d been using to obsessively check for news updates now had something inside of it that helped me make sense of the news for myself, the apparently killer app called “the novel.” But it also made me question whether the internet had really been the problem.

I have a desire to consume books, but be environmentally conscious, as well. Like Chee, I had put off buying an eReader because f the cost involved, and the quality concerns. That all changed when the Kindle 3 appeared. I happened to be watching Charlie Rose when he interviewed Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, earlier in the year. I had also watched a previous interview with Bezos several years ago when the original Kindle was coming out, so I was curious to see what the latest device could do – or, more importantly, how good he reading experience was. When I first saw it pulled out and saw how small it was in his hand, I thought the time may be right for me to buy one.

Curiously, also like Chee, I started the experience of e-reading by installing the Kindle app on my Android phone. Ironically, I thought reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows would be an appropriate first book to tackle with it. The experience went incredibly well, but I longed for a larger screen and to have easier access to more books.

My birthday was three weeks ago, and for a gift, I was told to order the new Kindle. My heart sank initially because the estimated delivery date was in the month of February. That was reversed, and last Thursday, the new Kindle arrived in the mail.