Earlier this week, ABC News released a new iPad app: a reader for the Web site’s content. The app is designed to resemble a three-dimensional sphere that can be manipulated by spinning or shaking the iPad. Each still picture on the face of the sphere connects to a video clip or text story. See a video of the app in action here.
Paul Slavin is the senior vice president of ABC News Digital, and was closely involved in the development of the app. He sat down for a few minutes with CJR assistant editor Lauren Kirchner to talk about it. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.
How did you come up with the sphere design?
I have always liked the idea of these personalized tag clouds, a cloud of text that is based on user input. We talked about a personalized tag cloud of text, in a sphere or a globe, and then someone said, why don’t we do it with video? One thing led to another, and—I think out of ignorance—we said, let’s put the video in a sphere and let’s make it 3D, assuming that we’d be able to figure it out. I’m told that this kind of thing has never been done before, and the level of math that went into this was cutting-edge. In six months everyone will have one of these on their noses, but right now, it was a real technological triumph for the group to be able to put this thing together. It also became apparent pretty early in the process that the sphere matched the ABC globe [logo], and it also matched our notion of ‘We cover the world,’ so there is a certain amount of kismet or subconscious intent there.
Why did you feel it was important to lead with video clips?
Videos are our big differentiator. There are a million outlets now that are doing text. I’m not going to suggest that text is easy; it’s just that there are a lot of competitors out there and video is a lot harder to do. We are a television network, first and foremost, so video is something that we know how to do. Text is still terribly important to us, and some of the images [in the globe] do take you to text stories, as opposed to video stories.
We wanted it to be visual, we wanted to be tactile, and to really put back the serendipity of a newspaper experience. On the Web site, increasingly people are coming in through a search, they’re coming in through linkage, they’re coming in for that specific story. Every Web site is seeing their homepage decline in percentage terms. We’re seeing more and more people coming in because they want that specific story. They look at it, and they go. That just seems to be the nature of where the business is. The iPad in a way brings back that earlier newspaper experience, or even the early browsing experience that people had on the Net, where they went to ten or twelve Web sites because the search wasn’t any good (this was way back in the old days of 2002). This brings back this notion of, I’m just going to go in here and I’m going to play, I’m going to look and I’m going to maybe find something I didn’t expect.
I think that idea is interesting, bringing back the nostalgic experience of touching something and moving it with your hands, like flipping through a newspaper. I just saw a new app that also came out this week, Flipboard, that turns your social media network feeds into an magazine format on the iPad that you can flip through.
Yes, Flipboard is great. In fact, if you go on the top free downloaded apps today, it’s Flipboard and ABC News. We’re hoping that this is just a cool experience. The best thing that happened was, my fifteen year old got a look at the app, and he goes into it and he says, ‘This is really cool.’ I can’t remember the last time he said anything that I did was cool.
Here at CJR, we’re interested in not just how these kinds of mobile apps can change the way people consume news, but how that technology might change the way news organizations produce and deliver the news. Have you thought about that at all?