With less than three weeks until the election, even the most enthusiastic political pundits and hobbyists might be feeling a bit burned out. Not only is this the first “Super PAC election,” resulting in an unprecedented number of television attack ads, it’s also the first social media election. Every time you check Facebook or Twitter, it’s hard to avoid your uncle’s birther ramblings or your cousin’s “9/11 was an inside job” nonsense.

Thankfully, there’s Unpolitic.me, a Google Chrome extension that does its best to block all political content from your Twitter and Facebook feeds and replace it with… cat pictures. It was developed by Buzzfeed’s creative director Chris Baker and modeled afterUnbaby.me, which Baker helped develop to rid your feeds of infants (which makes me wonder: do we only like cute pictures of babies when they don’t belong to our friends and family?)

On Facebook and Twitter, the extension is a useful tool that may lose its novelty after the election. But on Buzzfeed’s site, Unpolitic.me is put to a much more fascinating use. It exists as a button that lets you effectively turn on/off all political content. And there are few sites better-suited for its implementation than Buzzfeed, where investigative journalism is often presented on the same page as baby animal pictures, a juxtaposition not every publisher is comfortable with. When Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti sat down with PandoDaily’s editor in chief Sarah Lacy, he said, “You can say, ‘My site will only publish serious stuff,’ but the New York Times is going to be right in that (Facebook) news feed next to the cute kittens, and that’s where people are going to see it. They’re gonna all be mashed together. So our thesis is, why don’t we do that at the source, as the publisher.”

But with this button, Buzzfeed could be embracing a third way: we’ll give you all the content we have, but you can turn off the content you don’t want to see.

As news organizations are expected to cover more and more subjects to attract as many eyeballs as possible, the question of how to organize this information isn’t easily solved. The Huffington Post has gone the “endless vertical” route, diving its content into dozens of sections from “Weird News” to “Divorce.” Atlantic Media has taken a different route, dividing its properties into different brands on different domains, from the Atlantic Wire to the Atlantic Cities to QuartzFast Company has done the same thing with CoExist, et al.

Others have looked to “news personalization,” delivering content tailored to each individual user (see MySlate and Mashable Follow). But that forces the publisher to compete with the Twitters and Zites of the world, which allow users to curate their own feeds with content from the entire Web, not just your site.

But if Buzzfeed were to add on/or buttons for all content categories (cats, memes, sports, etc.) it could provide an easy personalization mechanism for its readers that requires no prior algorithmic analysis of their tastes. It also doesn’t require users to “follow” certain topics or writers like Mashable Follow. When you’re forced to follow things, there’s always a drive to follow everything for fear you might miss something. And that point, it’s easier to just consume the whole site without any personalization.

For my part, I read content from most of Buzzfeed’s verticals already, but I know a lot of people who don’t care for the listicles but love the politics (and vice-versa). I’d love to take it one more step: let’s see a “Lindsay Lohan” on/off switch for the New York Daily News. Or a “Kickstarter news” on/off switch for Boing Boing. And is it too much to ask for a “months-late Brooklyn trend piece” on/off switch for the New York Times?

Unpolitic.me could just be another one of Buzzfeed’s clever election gambits, faded from memory as quickly as it appeared. But I hope it isn’t, and that we see more experiments like this in how to manage and organize content on mega-sites. That way, increasingly-addled readers get the best possible experience and maybe even stay on your site for more than one article.

Via PandoDaily

Tags: .

Apple’s eBook platform for iOS is getting its first significant update in nine months. iBooks 3.0 will arrive in the App Store later today, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced this morning at the event where Apple’s new iPad Mini was introduced.

The new iBooks app will feature better integration with iCloud, continuous scrolling and support for dozens of new languages. Apple is also whittling away at its own walled garden a little bit by letting readers share passages via Facebook and Twitter.

Apple has been baking social networks more deeply into its operating systems, and this update is a nice touch. The inability to share short excerpts with friends was a palpable shortcoming in iBooks until today.

It’s not just eBook readers that are getting new features today. Apple is also pushing out a new version of iBooks Author, the drag-and-drop publishing tool used to create books for the iBookstore. iBooks Author features new templates and embeddable fonts.

A new push in education

In January, Apple took aim at the education market when it launched iBooks 2 and started offering digital textbooks in the iBookstore. While iBooks 3 is a more subtle update, Apple is emphasizing the growing role iPads play in education and has some numbers to tout. The iBooks platform now covers 80% of the core curriculum in U.S. high schools and more than 2,500 classrooms are using iBooks textbooks, Cook said.

Apple also addressed one common criticism about the iPad’s viability in the classroom this morning: the price. Alongside the fourth generation iPad, the company unveiled the iPad Mini, a $329 tablet with a 7.9-inch display.

The lower price point will make the iPad Mini an attractive option for cash-strapped school districts, while also pushing the competition in a way that is sure to impact the tablet market overall.

Via ReadWriteWeb

Tags: .

The Japanese Kindle Store is opening tomorrow, and since Amazon isn’t a company to do things at the last minute they rolled out a couple updates today to support their new customers.

Amazon has released new versions of both the Kindle for Android and Kindle for iOS apps. Both apps now support vertical text required for some Japanese ebooks, but each also got new abilities that the other did not.

You can also now email files to Amazon from inside other Android apps. For example, You could select a DOC file in ES File Explorer. When you press and hold on the file a menu should pop up with a number of options, including one which will let you email the DOC to Amazon so it can be converted.

Cool feature, but it’s balanced by the fact the file got huge (17MB). This feature also does not work for me on my Galaxy Tab (Android 2.3). The Kindle Android app now has improved support for the Nexus 7 as well as other tablets running Android 4.1.

The iOS app will likely never get similar email functions (Apple would never allow it), but today the app did get a useful ability as well as a couple prettifications.

Amazon added a new font choice, Caecilia, and you can also read the book in the publisher suggested font(s). Assuming the publisher is smart about their font choices, this should add to the reading experience.

But the more important feature for the iPad app is the new X-Ray for textbooks. Do you like how you can look up a character’s background in a Kindle novel? Now you will be able to do the same with textbooks. X-Ray for textbooks gives you instant access to the most important terms and concepts in a book, including glossary definitions, links to relevant textbook pages, and related content from Wikipedia and YouTube.

This feature seems to only be available for the Kindle Print Ready textbooks. KPR is Amazon’s PDF format, and it’s a nod to the fact that page shaped slivers of content still works for some material.

And even in a limited form, X-Ray for textbooks is bound to be useful to students. I’ve played with similar features in the Kno and Inkling iPad apps. This does add useful information which students often need.


Google Play

Via The Digital Reader

Tags: .

eBooks are increasingly being thought of as works in progress. In the past Pearson has announced early releases of time-sensitive programming books, O’Reilly has published an unfinished ebook, and now that iBooks 3.0 makes it easier for publishers to push out new content it’s clear that ebooks aren’t regarded as the finished product their print forbears were.

But as useful as the impermanent nature of digital content might be, ebook publishers are still casting about to find the best way to make use of it. I was reminded of that this week by a recently updated ebook.

O’Reilly is a technical publisher who is well known for selling DRM-free ebooks, and one of the eboks I have bought from them is called The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future Projections. As you can tell from the name, it summarizes the global ebook market.

This is the type of book which will quickly go out of date (6 months or less, IMO), so it’s a good thing that O’Reilly has released an update a few days ago. Or it would be, if I could tell what had been changed with the new edition.

There’s no clear indication in the ebook where new content has been added, nor can I see where the existing content has been edited to include corrected facts or other details which only came to light after the previous update. There isn’t even a change log for the update, so I don’t even know which sections were edited.

Here is where ebook publishers could take a lesson from app developers. It’s more common than not for app developers to post a list of what had been changed whenever they release a new version of their app. While the changelog is not always complete or accurate, it is better than not having one at all.

And yes, I do realize that I am preaching to the choir, given that a lot of digital publishers work with/beside/for app developers. On the other hand, O’Reilly is not posting these kind of details and if one of the more innovative digital publishers isn’t then chances are they’re not alone.

And besides, having this info in hand would really help readers, and that is the whole point.

Via The Digital Reader

Tags: ,,.

So Apple unveiled iBooks 3.0 yesterday and it is difficult to describe my disappointment.

I was expecting this update to be part of Apple’s big education announcement and include complete support for Epub3. Or at the very least I was expecting more features to be supported, but it doesn’t look like that happened.

I’ve been playing with the new iBooks app yesterday and this morning and so far as I can tell it did not add any new support for Epub 3. Even though iBooks Author is supposed to have better support for creating math equations, the iBooks app clearly doesn’t have similar support for displaying the equations. MathML clearly is not supported; I tried the requisite Epub3 sample and I still cannot see the equations.

Update: I’ve gotten a report that MathML is supported. Baldur checked one of the Epub3 demo files on his iPad 3 and the equations did show up. I still cannot see them on my iPad 2.

I’m also not seeing any change in how well iBooks supports things like Javscript, testing widgets, or other interactive features found in the Epub3 spec.

But one thing I have noticed is that the app seems a lot slower on my iPad 2. For the larger ebooks I have seen a noticeable slowdown in responsiveness, an increase time to open an ebook, and even a lag in the time it takes to turn the page.

But at least this app does have access to new dictionaries for German, Spanish, French, Japanese and Simplified Chinese (iOS6 required). And the app can now receive free updates to purchased ebooks – including new chapters, corrections, and other improvements. There are also new sharing options (the usual Facebook, Twitter, email, Messages).

IMO none of the new features outweigh the poorer performance. Nor does the new scrolling mode, though I am amused to see that feature be added.

Scrolling pages is a viewing mode which PDF apps have had for a while now. The reason it’s still around after all these years is that it is useful for certain types of reading, and that’s why Apple added it to iBooks. But it’s not as pretty as the faux page turn which Apple integrated into iBooks, so when Apple added scrolling mode they decided, for the first time in a long while, to let function (features) win out over form (prettiness). I find that amusing.

In all honesty this update is one step forward, 2 steps back. I wish I could downgrade.

Via The Digital Reader

Tags: .








Tags: ,,,.