The Web Without the Muck: A Long Interview with Longform.org

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create a place where people could design their own experience around their favorite sources. We are starting with 25 sources. Ultimately, we would like it to be more global. So when you are in London, for example, you can get the Guardian and other great local sources.

X: How did you pick the initial 25 sources for the app? Have you reached out and negotiated a deal with each of these publishers?

AL: No, we don’t negotiate and we don’t look at it as a deal of any kind. Everything in the app is publicly available. We looked at the sources that we were constantly linking to on Longform.org. We said “These are the most consistent, high-quality sources,” and we started there.

We have a lot of ideas about places to go from here. But we didn’t want to overwhelm people when we launched with a huge catalog of stuff. It does require custom work to create the rich metadata you see in the app, where it identifies the author, the title, and gives a story description. That is stuff that’s more advanced than just RSS feeds. So we do a lot of custom back-end work to support each feed.

X: You’re supplying publishers with more page views, but not necessarily with more ad impressions, right?

AL: What we are doing is loading people’s Web pages in a reader window, the same way you would in an RSS reader or a Twitter client if you clicked on a link. We default to those Web pages. So that pings your Web server and it registers as a page view in your analytics. In that way, I think we are supplying value.

Once that page is loaded, the reader is free to toggle into a more parsed view to read—but that’s only once the page is loaded. The only time we default to a stripped-down page is when the reader is offline and therefore couldn’t load the Web page anyway. But far and away the majority of people’s iPad time is connected time. We think the occasional parsed page view is a worthwhile tradeoff for publishers.

X: Okay, but let’s take this a step further. There is a setting in the app that allows the reader to default to the parsed, stripped-down view for reading, even when they’re connected. And I’m of two minds about that. As a reader, I enjoy the simplified presentation. But as a journalist working for a for-profit publication, I’m a little horrified. If this form of reading really caught on, and if everyone opted for the parsed view, ad impressions would plummet. How is that good for publishers?

AL: Obviously, you are not the first person who has asked this question. It was probably the most active and contentious discussion we had in building this. What we ultimately believe in is designing for readers. We think the most important person in the equation is the reader. And if the reader has a great experience, the reader will read more, and the reader will be a better customer.

But where we are right now is not where I think we will be in a few years. I don’t think these clean, minimalist experiences are totally incongruous with ads or some form of monetization. I think publishers will follow the readers to where the readers want to be. The ultimate goal is not in any way to strip out ads. I think the ultimate goal is to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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