Reporter’s Notebook: A Dozen Digital Media Discoveries

4/15/11Follow @wroush

Every day, I come across loads of interesting material that I’d love to blog about but can’t because I don’t have the time or the right venue. I usually just stick this stuff into Evernote and tell myself I’ll write about it later.

Well, it’s later. In today’s column I want to round up a dozen or so fun articles, websites, and apps, and other stuff you may not have come across before. There’s no particular theme here, beyond the fact that I said to myself “Cool!” or “That’s so perceptive!” to myself when I first stumbled across these items. Enjoy.

1. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

This is a remarkable iPad and iPhone game from a small game development house in Toronto. Actually, it’s a little misleading to call it a game. It’s more of a musical-mythopoetic adventure, with graphics that are deliberately low-tech (they’re in 8-bit style) but ravishing nonetheless, and an amazing electronic soundtrack by Jim Guthrie. I can’t say I understand the storyline—something about a megatome, psionics, and trigons—but it doesn’t matter. The point is to immerse yourself in the game’s enchanting environment.

2. The Toronto Standard

There must be some kind of radioactive entrepreneurial-design pixie dust in the air in Toronto these days. Another company there, Playground Digital, just helped rebuild The Toronto Standard, a short-lived Toronto newspaper (1848-1850) that now provides a “daily digital briefing on the life of the city.” It’s not the briefings that impress me so much as the packaging.  Playground has reinvented the way Web content flows into the browser page; they call it a “liquid layout.” When you resize your browser window, the images and the columns resize themselves, always adopting the most elegant layout for the available screen width. And if you go to the site on a smartphone or tablet, prepare to have your mind blown—the whole site intelligently reflows when you switch from landscape to portrait orientation (and this in the Safari browser, not in a native app). The whole Web should work this way.

3. Give Me Something To Read

This site, together with Longform.org and Longreads, satiates my periodic need for a long piece of narrative journalism that I can really sink my canines into. It’s a curated list of interesting articles being saved to Instapaper, the mobile-friendly app where you can store and read stripped-down versions of Web content. Among today’s selections: “The Grand Tour,” a New Yorker article about Chinese tourists in Europe, and “A Political Meltdown,” a Walrus Magazine piece about Canada’s role in a shortage of medical isotopes.

4. The End of Content Ownership

Lance Ulanoff at PC Magazine is a consistently perceptive technology writer with a broad range of interests. This Ulanoff piece, from just this week, is a great example—it argues that much sooner than we think, we’re all going to stop storing our purchased digital content locally (whether they’re on our hard drives, like songs from iTunes, or on other physical media like books, CDs, or paper) and get almost everything from the cloud. Even books will be streamed from the cloud, page by page, Ulanoff persuasively argues.

5. Bing for iPad

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the slickest mobile app I’ve seen in weeks is from Microsoft. It’s the new Bing app for the iPad. Like Bing on the Web, it hits you first with a stunning full-screen image, then lets you dive into beautifully designed, smoothly functional sections on weather, news, maps, movies, images, videos, and shopping. There’s also an intriguing … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • JWilly48519

    So, which was this one…”cool”, or “perceptive”?

    > “Why should we change when what we have now works just fine? The problem is that it doesn’t work just fine. Ask anyone who is not a nerd or a computer hobbyist and they will tell you that they hate them with the same passion they love their iPhones and iPads. The answer is in the complexity of the computer vs. the simplicity of the touch interface.” <

    The sociopathology here is amusing…the writer categorizes himself and those like him as Normal, and relegates those not like him to Abnormal groups toward which his scorn is obvious.

    We're not all alike, we don't all perform the same tasks, and–to borrow an expression–vive la difference. It's great to celebrate improvements to tools and toys that are especially suited for particular tasks or user groups. It's not so great to show such disdain for those who don't need those improvements because they mostly perform text-oriented tasks, and/or don't regard the current paradigm as complex…particularly when the disdain is applied to what market studies show to be the majority.

    In my view, this piece was unperceptive, and definitely not cool.

  • http://dlw@alum.mit.edu Daniel L Weinreb

    I do not interpret Wade’s comments at all the way JWilly48519 does. I am in the “nerd or computer hobbyist” category (a professional software developer), and even I feel the way Wade says. He’s not being condescending; in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s not the users who are at fault; it is the computer industry, which has made so much software that is unreliable and confusing to use.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    I just want to clarify that the quote JWilly48519 is reacting to is from Jesus Diaz, writing at Gizmodo, not from me. That said, I agree with Jesus that for certain tasks — such as digital drawing and video editing — a touchscreen interface is a huge help, and can quickly come to feel more natural than a point-and-click interface. Maybe Jesus went a bit over the top in his enthusiasm. But I don’t think anyone is arguing that people who mostly perform text-oriented tasks should be forced to give up their desktop or laptop PCs for tablets.