Friday, May 20, 2011

NYPL Biblion: a "truly innovative application' about the 1939-1940 World's Fair from the New York Public Library

Because TNM has an international audience, this post from Pedro Monteiro, publisher of the new website Digital Distribution, first appeared online very early this morning, US time. It has been "bumped" to the top for the convenience of readers in the Western Hemisphere.

Every now and then, the app store can deliver some really nice surprises. These past weeks, I've been thrilled to find a lot of these surprises. We've seen and played with some new applications that finally bring a new "look" to what magazines and newspaper should really be on the iPad: I'm thinking about Al Gore's book Our Choice, or Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz, and just a couple of days ago we saw Letter to Jane: Moral Tales with its very fresh and experimental interface, navigation and content.
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But today, I was mesmerized with NYPL Biblion: World's Fair. Who would have thought, just a couple of months ago, that a great out-of-the-box layout, one that sets such a interesting example of UI for magazines around our tablets, would be designed for a library?

Yet, here it is, in all it's glory and novelty, the New York Public Library application Biblion. And what a sight it is! This publication (a first of more to come, we are told) bares the title "The World of Tomorow: Exploring the 1939-40 World's Fair Collection" and delivers a huge amount of content, from historical pictures, to essay's about the fair and its innovations.

But it is the interface that I want to talk about, so let's get to it.

Right at the beginning, the Table of Contents - if you can call it that - is presented in a very visually powerful way. You get a great taste of the amount of content you'll be able to explore and its navigation, even if different, is natural and needs no instructions. Tap the introduction "stack" and you'll see a cover for the issue (if it is the first time you choose the stack) and there's a very clever idea to start: you get cover titles on the left and right side of the cover.

On the left side, titles for previously read articles;on the right side, titltes for articles you might want to check out, from the ones not yet read. Publishers and developers out there, please copy this and understand the thinking behind this kind of UI solutions.

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The articles view is just beautiful, taking full advantage of the iPad's functions and physicality: on horizontal view, you get text and pictures separated. Reading navigation is done horizontally also, swiping through the pages in a cadence of pictures and text. Rotate your iPad to vertical mode and you get the Book View. Set for the reading experience, I just love the way pictures grow from their stack in acordande with the text you're reading. To add even more enjoyment to a design and UI freak like me, the NYPL application teaches another lesson with yellow marked, on the side to be pulled, related content to the one you're reading. The cherry on top of the cake has to be the left thumbnail of the article content. Such a nice way to visualize the full article. I expect this kind of approach to be copied all over very soon.

Talk about this visual hints of the articles, back on horizontal mode you can choose to see all of the section's articles in that way, a very nice way to understand fast what kind of content is on each article.

This is truly a innovative application – you'll just have to download it for free yourself from the app store. If you are as impressed as I am, then you should go to the Settings popup menu where can donate to the library. Go ahead, these guys really deserve it!

One last word for the developers of the app, the interaction design and technology firm Potion: well done guys, the kind of thinking that has gotten into the making of this application is amazing and should be a huge inspiration for everyone in the news business that is (or will be) publishing on the iPad. I will try to talk with the Potion guys about Biblion (if you are reading this, I'm the one asking for an email interview) and if I'm successful, I'll post it on my own blog.
– Pedro Monteiro

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