Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Foysyth County News releases first tablet edition

Writing about the convergence of media and tech can sometimes lead to encountering apps that don't always perform as they should. The initial reaction is to immediately begin writing about how a certain app is buggy, or shouldn't have been even released. Then on takes a second look and suddenly all the bugs are gone and so is your post.
A good example of this is the new iPad edition released by the Forsyth County News, a Georgia newspaper. FCN News was developed by Salt Lake City digital publishing solutions company Matchbin.

The new app opens up to a message telling you that"You don't have any publications yet! Tap "Buy" above to get some." Since I haven't see any sample issue of the product, buying "some" is a little hard. Making it harder is that fact that there is no "Buy" above! Clearly the developer meant "Store", but still is it so hard for someone to proofread the app?

Once you go to the store you see that you can either buy one issue at 99 cents, or subscribe at 99 cents – again, rather strange but I'm game. Now to understand what I encountered next you need to know that my iPad was in landscape in its cover. I bought one issue and then waited. Nothing happened but I figured that I needed to go into the library at that point, and I was right.

Once in the library I tapped on the one issue I had bought and encountered an issue that took up two-thirds of the screen. I turned my iPad to portrait but nothing happened, it did not turn.

I was about to conclude that this was one buggy app when I decided to shutdown the app and reboot it. At that point opening up the purchased issue resulted the app going full screen – all was well, sort of.

The problem with native application solutions is that they are a more complicated digital publishing solution than simply converting a PDF. The result is that often native apps can misbehave in all sorts of manners.

The design of the news pages inside FCN Digital are simple enough, but the navigation is not very intuitive. There is no button for "Home" or "Library" that helps the reader out.

The app also comes with a Business Directory that I simply could not get to work. Tapping the categories did nothing, as did tapping the message that read "Tap here to learn more".

Overall, this app would be fine if it were the result of a few weeks of work and was being presented to the publisher as a work-in-progress. Unfortunately, it has made is way into the App Store and I suspect that an update will need to be released sooner rather than later.

Left: the opening splash page; Middle: the sections are a collection of boxes, effective, if boring; Right: The Business Directory needs serious design work.

Why does this happen? I've always suspected that it is harder to reject the work of digital publishing vendors than it is internal work. Vendors often give you a certain amount of time at a certain price and if the work is not up to the publisher's standards then they are faced with a very tough decision – admit that a lot of money has been wasted, or else let the project go through and hope that whatever defects are to be found in the end product can be cleaned up at a later date, and without too much more cost being added to the bill.

The last website launches I was involved with while a group publisher presented me with this dilemma. The work was simply not acceptable and it looked we'd either have to go in another direction or else continue to struggle getting close to the original vision. I simply did not want to launch yet another boring, ineffective B2B website. But the media company's chief executive and the management team at the vendor put plenty of pressure to "just get the job done". The result: more websites that are not generating any profit, for anyone.

My only recommendation for any publisher working on projects in the new media space is to assume that it will take twice as long as the vendor says it will in order to get things right, and to make sure the vendor is willing to see the project through to everyone's satisfaction without massive changes to the original price.