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Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Daily

After much anticipation, Rupert Murdoch's latest venture finally hit the street iPad this week. The Daily brings a print-style publication to the online age, not the first to do so (witness the e-editions of many publications, including The Reporter), but among the first to do so exclusively from scratch and to use the iPad interface to enhance the content with videos, photo galleries and more.

Downloading the 45-mb app took some doing, as the iPad refused to do so from a 3G connection but instead prompted me to find a grounded wireless signal. Once I did so, the app loaded slowly then the current 'edition' of The Daily also loaded.

The interface is gorgeous. The reader is presented with a carousel-style page chooser (much like the Apple photo viewer), and the pages are designed to look like a magazine, complete with a cover, 'featured' page, full-page ads (with embedded videos and other multi-media) and multi-page articles. The photo display, as you would expect on an iPad, is excellent, and the layout of the pages is clean and well thought-out. As others have pointed out, the app lacks a site index, so you are forced to thumb through pages to find particular stories. The 'featured' page can take you to some articles, but not all.

Like a newspaper, the app features a crossword puzzle and Soduko in the back.

The stories are what you would expect from a Murdoch publication - hard news, lifestyles features, and lots of entertainment and celebrity content. In one edition, coverage of the crisis in Egypt included a couple of 2-3 page stories (newspaper-length), photo galleries, and some video. Coverage of the recent snow storm led the news, however, and also included a photo gallery and video.

The app and content are free for the next two weeks, so you can check it out for yourself or find it on the web at an unofficial blog that may or may not last long depending on what Murdoch's attorneys think about it. After two weeks, The Daily will be available for $.99 a week or $39 for a year subscription - a pretty reasonable price.

This is a well-executed product that obviously has a lot of talent behind it. The big question - is there an audience for this unique publication?

The Daily makes me think of what we thought 20 years ago about what an online publication would look like. The Harry Potter-like interface with moving ads and embedded videos evokes nostalgia in a way - I have become so used to reading news in an interactive, webby interface that looking at The Daily reminds me of sitting in the library and reading magazines years ago (only with less words).

And that brings me to one of the biggest drawbacks of The Daily - the content is delivered once a day print-style. Stories about the crisis in Egypt are outdated an hour after they are sent, and while the 'evergreen' features (not tied to a particular date) are nice, on a standard web interface such content can be left featured for days if the demand is good enough. Some stories or multi-media features take hours or days to 'go viral,' but it is lots of fun when they do.

Maybe an updating feature will be added at some point, so stories will change on the fly encouraging readers to check back several times a day instead of sitting down after work and reading The Daily cover-to-cover.

I wonder whether the new generation of news readers will embrace the magazine format - after all, they are all about web pages, text messages, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook - all instant, instant, now. Sitting down to read stories that a bunch of editors in New York think I want to read, with no reader comments or content, forums, links, or other webby enhancements seems like a limited experience to me. If I want news on Egypt, I can connect right to Al Jazeera and their amazing live coverage. Or I can watch Twitter (which I have been) for updates from people actually on the scene in Cairo. Pretty compelling stuff.

If I want celebrity news, I could hit TMZ or dozens of other sites. Sports? MLB, NFL, ESPN, or the thousands of fan blogs that cater to every pro and college team. Whatever my interest, there is a place to go to find more discussion and content than I could ever digest - free, categorized, searchable, interactive and live.

Though missing the interactive and live elements, perhaps The Daily will serve a demographic that actually misses the print publication experience - you know, those people you see on the train reading actual books and magazines; or those who have embraced the print-like Kindle or Nook readers. They're still out there, and maybe under-served in the online world?

And finally - the pay wall. Will readers be willing to part with 14 cents a day for The Daily? The price is certainly low enough to not be an issue for most folks. I question whether the loss in readership will damage ad revenue beyond the subscription price once the two-week honeymoon is over, however. The content will have to be unique and compelling enough for me to spend even a small amount - I am already overwhelmed with the massive amount of free information available and the number of content providers competing for my attention. I found the first edition a little too heavy on the entertainment and too light on the news for my tastes (hey, it IS News Corp after all), but for others this might be just the right mix. Perhaps at some point it will be split into several publications, each with their own staff directed at niche audiences.

I'll keep reading The Daily for the next two weeks and give it a fair chance, but as pretty as it is, I have a feeling once they ask for a credit card, it will end up in my 'shaky app' delete bin.


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