Friday, April 19, 2013

Advocate Discovery launches stand-alone content aggregation app powered by Trapit; aggregation publishing solutions usually fall short of hyperbolic claims

The publisher of such titles as The Advocate, Out magazine and Gay.Net, Here Media, has released a new stand-alone news app called Advocate Discovery.

The new app is powered by Trapit, a Flipboard-like aggregation platform that allows Here Media to bring into the app the content from its portfolio of properties. Comparing Trapit to Flipboard is a little unfair – and I'm sure Trapit would agree – because the app does much more than simply display the content brought in from RSS feeds into a standard layout, then display the stories in an unchanging text with graphic layout. Content aggregation apps such as Flipboard and Zite, along with publishing solutions like OnSwipe and Pressly remain platforms with no barrier to entry – each needs to keep adding features to justify their use, and each appear stuck in the boxy design and RSS feed dependent mode.

Advocate Discovery is really about bringing in the various media properties into one app, and as such is not really a new digital publication as much as a new content aggregation portal. The user chooses their topics, their media properties, then uses the app much like Flipboard, Zite of OnSwipe. The layout retains that boring box look.

But tapping the stories takes one to the media properties website, rather than a re-laid out native tablet page. As a result, one might call this a website aggregation tool, rather than a way to create a native tablet publication.

According to a story on Digital Trends, the cost to the publisher to use the Trapit platform is $1,000 a month – this will no doubt limit its use to those media companies trying to find a way to consolidate related media website under one umbrella.

Having demoed publishing platforms such as OnSwipe and Pressly, I find three basic problems with these solutions.

First, content is driven into set layouts that are designed once and are not often appropriate for the actual material to be displayed. While some find the boxy look of these apps attractive, others find them boring (I'm in the "boring" camp). But the real problem is that they are set in stone, with spots for photos that may not be appropriate for the actual graphics. Some squeeze and expand the photos to fit, contorting the faces of the subjects, others leave them alone but still produce odd effects. And because they are driven by RSS feeds, they usually do not allow for an editor to prioritize the articles in the app. Like a blog, like TNM, the latest post goes in the first spot, period.

Second, rarely do these platforms handle secondary RSS feeds in an appropriate manner. I worked for hours trying to figure a way to make OnSwipe work for TNM but ultimately gave up. The problem was that while it could display the main RSS feed in a somewhat acceptable manner, bringing in additional content only messed things up. For instance, bringing in the TNM YouTube channel feed meant that it would be mixed into the main page, often leading to duplicate content. The home page for OnSwipe is always a collection of all the feeds the publisher brings, there is no way to limit it to just one channel. In short, without lots of customization options the results will be unacceptable.

Third, follow-up and service. The problem I have with so many digital publishing vendors remains their lack of service (along with their hyperbolic claims). No publisher should ever work with an vendor providing them with less than world-class service. At the very least I would think that a publisher would want the same level of service they believe they provide their own clients. That will lead to a nice match of companies - the sharks with the sharks, and the publishing pros with the publishing pros.