Richard Baum

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What makes a good electronic newspaper?

April 15, 2009

I’ve been playing with the Amazon Kindle for a little over a week now and while I’m sold on its superiority to printed books it’s no replacement for the newspaper. It’s not so much that the black and white screen renders pictures as murky as a Rorschach inkblot as the fact that there is no easy way to skim through the paper. You can jump between sections via a home page that acts like a very basic website navigation, but there’s no obvious way to navigate within a section. The International link, for example, takes you to the first article in that section. You can see the headline of the next article at the bottom of the page and jump straight to it, but that’s all. There’s no list of all the articles in the section. The only way to skim the headlines is to move forward one article at a time.

This serial navigation is how most of us read print newspapers and has no place as the only option for an electronic edition. But it got me thinking about the ideal features of an electronic newspaper. Obviously you want the freedom to navigate through the content as you wish, but serial navigation has its advantages. One of the pleasures of print is when you turn the page to find a interesting article that you would never have jumped to by choice. The serendipity factor doesn’t feel as high on the traditional newspaper website, despite the plethora of Editor’s Choice modules and Most Read lists.

There’s also a sense of accomplishment in reaching the last page of a print paper and the reassurance that you’ve seen “all the news that’s fit to print.” You’d have to click a few hundred “next article” links to achieve that on a website. So while is a far better electronic newspaper than the Kindle version, its lack of an elegant serial navigation path means it’s imperfect.

The paper’s iPhone app is closer to my ideal, although like many people I find it crashes frequently. You can skim a headline list with the flick of a finger and it’s as easy to move forwards within a section as it is to jump between them. It’s readable despite the small screen size and will be a joy on a bigger iPod Touch.

My favorite version of the newspaper, however, is Times Reader, a PC application that it launched in 2006. The landscape screen layout evokes the print edition and you can navigate both randomly via the mouse or serially via the arrow keys or mouse wheel. The article pages have clean three-column layouts with big pictures. Headlines fade to gray when you’ve read an article, so like the print edition you always have a sense of your progress through the paper. It costs the same as the Kindle edition, $15 a month, although it’s free if you’re a print subscriber. Best of all worlds? Possibly.


Actually,there IS a way to navigate within a section: from the home page that shows the different sections, you need to underline the number of articles instead of the section name, and click. A section browser then shows quick abstracts of 5 articles per page. You can click on an article, and then go back to the browser by pressing the BACK button.

However, I agree with the general tone of this article: Amazon and newspapers should find a way to improve the experience of reading articles on the Kindle.

Posted by Louis Le Coeur | Report as abusive

e-paper would evolve in greater in coming days, they are here to stay and print paper are on slow line of death probably 20 years from now you would not find people reading a print paper

Posted by neil | Report as abusive

Even with the speed of technological development, e-readers like the Kindle won’t compare to printed newspapers and printed books form many years. Books and newspapers have “evolved” over many years to fulfill our reading needs and desires, e-readers will need time to grow and adjust untill they meet our needs the way newspapers and book work for us now.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

Thanks Louis, I hadn’t noticed that. Still, it’s not as elegant as Times Reader.

Posted by Richard Baum | Report as abusive

Another example to consider is something like weekly online advertisement flyer – you can flip through the pages easily, just like going through the hardcopy flyer; hover over an item to zoom in; click on an item to get more details; It is the navigation and interaction as the pages flip on the screen that make the experience similar to handling the hardcopy equivalent.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

There are better way and simpler ways to do this such as

The other way is to create a ‘landing page’ where users can create an avatar or persona to automate search by permitting users to submit articles ‘similar’ to their interest so that the news ‘site’ finds them in the content queue.

Then allow users to create multiple avatars or persona masks and select the most appropriate one in order to filter the stories based on what is top of mind at any particual moment in time.


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  • About Richard

    "General Manager for Reuters News in New York and Canada. Previously editor for Consumer Media. I've worked in India, Singapore and Canada and am currently based in New York. I joined Reuters in my hometown of London in 1998."
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