Digital Newspapers and their Affordances

An interesting bit by Australian writer, Anne Summers who gives up her three a day print newspaper habit for digital subscriptions is today’s Library Link of the Day. The deciding factor: the nuisance of getting and then disposing of the papers themselves. (She doesn’t mention the environmental issue per se, but I’ve always thought that will finally be what finishes off hard copy subscriptions for me.)

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Version 1.0 of the NYTimes–the first front page from 1851. Had to wait awhile for version 2.0 enhancements, like photos.

Not quite there yet though: my NYTimes came to my door this morning. And like my parents (newspaper people and later journalism teachers), I sat with my coffee and scanned, read, page turned, enjoyed the feel of the thing in my hand and the look of it on the table.

No question that the digital format offers lots that this batch of inky atoms doesn’t. (Summers in her Sydney Sunday Morning essay describes the digital presentation as a library, true enough and doesn’t even reach the multimedia or social elements digital offers.) But as she notes, this bonanza comes with a learning curve, different enough in each of the three papers she subscribes to require a little futzing. In web/media/education speak these different formats all have their affordances. A term connected to usability, and a little pompous, I grant you. “Affordance, please bring the Benz to the door. Cyril and Daria are going for a spin!” For me, affordance mostly refers to question, “what does a format let you do?” One newspaper format affords you the chance to play video or search, another affords you the chance to clean your BBQ or pick up cat poop. (So far, no Firefox plug-ins for those activities).

The thing about the printed newspaper page is that it affords—or just offers—such a well-designed and evolved interface. The graphic display is the result of centuries of development of graphic design, and user testing. You understand hierarchy, you get how to use it, you scan, read, scribble, clip, and know what is contained in that day’s helping. I like being able to understand what the writers and editors intended, and I like the organization of content, which presents this intention pretty transparently. I say this fully realizing that for a one-year-old a print publication is just an iPad that doesn’t quite work. But for me, for a little while longer, a digital edition is just a piece of print that doesn’t quite work.

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The Globe’s epaper version. A lot of interface to find out who won the game or the Golden Globes. I think they are solving the wrong problem.

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