Discover - Wikipedia in a Magazine

The focus of write this week’s Free on iTunes was going to be library apps, but I found that I needed to do more research before I could confidently talk about them. So, I found myself scrambling to find something cool to talk about.

When I found Discover - Wikipedia in a Magazine, an app from Cooliris, I was nearly blown away, so Discover is the only app I’ll be talking about this week, but it’s quite an app.

What Discover does is take Wikipedia articles and presents them in an e-magazine format on the iPad. It’s a slick way to present information, and I can see this thing taking off if it becomes popular. I can see text and trade books using this format to display warehoused data, journals can be presented in a more compelling (meaning less boring) way, and even periodicals would benefits from this format. It still needs a bit of work, but only a bit.

Front page of Discover’s Current article

Front page of Discover’s Current article

Take a look at the screen captures. The front page changes with each new issue, and it looks every bit as good as many print magazines. Shake the iPad at the cover page to randomly pick a previously published issue. Swipe your finger across the screen at the cover page to view the Photo of the Day, which is not necessarily related to any of the articles presented for that day.

Articles are full of photos and charts

Articles are full of photos and charts

Swipe back to the cover page and tap any of the Play symbols (>) and you are delivered into that article. Once in the article all controls are related to that article, so swiping moves you back and forth in the article. Swiping up puts you in a search screen, swiping down deposits you in your article history screen, where you can go back to articles you’ve viewed before. To get back to the cover page you have to give the iPad a shake.

I’m not a fan of the interface, it’s not intuitive, and I definitely don’t enjoy shaking my iPad for any reason. Shaking is a disruptive action that ruins what might otherwise be a pleasant experience. There’s no need to shake anyway, especially since the iPad understands multiple touches.

I should be able to swipe and tap my way through the entire magazine using one or two fingers as I go; one finger to maneuver in the current article, two fingers to maneuver in the magazine. Hopefully, Cooliris will fix this.

Even with the kludgy interface, the potential of Discover is readily seen. Any existing digital content can be easily turned into a useable e-magazine, complete with multimedia access and ads. And the ads are key.

Cooliris inserts their ads several pages into every article, and the ads are full of motion and color. The only problem I see is that ad links require you to leave the magazine. This will be partially fixed when iOS4, with its multitasking and app switching, is available for the iPad, but I think that Cooliris would do better to incorporate iAds into their e-zine, so that the user never leaves the app.

Ads are multimedia

Ads are multimedia

With decent ads, other publishers might see revenue potential in the Cooliris system and adopt it, which, in turn, makes more content available, and I’m all for more content.

Lets go back to the Photo of the Day section, this is more than just a posed pretty picture. Tap the Play button and Discover brings up the Wikipedia entry for the photo. Like the features article, the photo article is complete, with more photos and in depth discussions on the subject at hand.

Photo of the Day is a great way to discover things

Photo of the Day is a great way to discover things

If you run across a word you’re not familiar with then a simple touch pops up a window displaying a dictionary definition of the word. You can then touch the window to get more information if there is any. In this way you can discover all sorts of stuff you never knew. Again, if you want to return to the front page you give the iPad a shake, which we’ve established as not being a good thing.

What’s also not good is the lack of a way to mark where you’ve been. As you tap and veer further away from the original topic you’ll find that you may have visited more than a handful of articles, and some may contain some thing you’ll want to read through again. Being able to leave a bookmark would be a godsend. In fact, I’d trade the article history page for a list of bookmarks. I don’t necessarily care about all the articles I read, but I do care about some of them, and those I want to go back to.

Lastly, there is no breadcrumb feature where you can go back through the articles you’ve just visited in reverse sequence. The usefulness of breadcrumbs and bookmarks are obvious and I’m surprised they are not included. But then, this is the first version of the app, so stay tuned.

One final thought: I’m not so sure how long Cooliris can hold onto that app name since the name is easily confused with Discover Magazine, which also offers a web version of its printed magazine. So, set your litigation timers, it shouldn’t take long.

In the meantime, grab Cooliris’ Discover - Wikipedia in a Magazine app. It’s free. It’s cool. It’s a great way to learn new things, and it’s…um, free!

That’s a wrap for this week.

Free on iTunes