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Digital Mags Don't Let You Socialize, But Is That So Wrong?

lonely man with ipadWe enjoy Nick Bilton as much as the next nerd, but why does the New York Times' tech columnist think that the main failure of digital magazines is their lack of social networking capabilities? Call us old fogeys, but back around the turn of the 19th century, when we were in our ramshackle grammar school barns on the outskirts of the Dust Bowl, the magazines we read didn't come with any sharing function -- outside of riding your donkey to the next hamlet, and handing the thing to your friend. So what if, with the advent of the Internet and what-all, people have become more accustomed to clicking a button to send LOLcats to everyone they know? Should magazines have that kind of capability built-in?

"The challenge," writes Bilton, "has been to find the right mix of content, design and community that can stand apart from the publishers' content given away on the Web." So far, we haven't seen a single digital mag that has incorporated each of those traits well or effectively. But one thing that Bilton seems to be ignoring is the fact that publications have had to make their Web content freely accessible in order to stay competitive. And that model has not exactly worked for several companies, including The New York Times, which will soon be rolling out a paywall in an effort to shore up its revenue.

Condé Nast and Time both told Bilton that they were planning to incorporate social networking features into their digital magazines soon, but the other issue that needs to be addressed is the problem of platforms. It's all well and good if you want to share an article from the Sports Illustrated iPad app on Twitter, but how will your legion of followers access that article if they haven't shelled out $500 for the requisite hardware?

Bilton points to the recently announced Gourmet Live app -- a digital husk of the shuttered print magazine -- as a prime example for what apps can do. But modern readers must be shallow, ADD-prone blobs of matter if it takes a magazine that "adds a heavy dose of social vernacular along with gaming elements" to keep their attention. Why does reading need to be a game? What does that say about the future of journalism?

To us, magazines are all about content and design, and we haven't beheld a digital publication that has been able to engage us the way an old analog version can. So the drive for social networking features seems misguided; developers should be working on making their mags legible and easy to use, instead of locking content behind a "gaming element," or trying to figure out a way it can get a zillion Facebook clicks.

As we all saw with Michael Hastings's recent article on General Stanley McChrystal, good journalism still has the power to both affect the real world and bring unlikely readers to a magazine that has -- let's face it -- a mixed-up editorial direction. (It's also interesting to note that, as of today, the McChrystal article has zero Facebook shares directly from the Rolling Stone site.) We're not opposed to social networking, as a rule. But maybe it shouldn't be the focus of digital magazines -- at least until they get the other problems sorted out. [From: New York Times]

Tags: CondeNast, deathofprint, design, DigitalMagazine, GeneralStanleyMcchrystal, GourmetMagazine, IpadApp, journalism, magazines, nick bilton, NickBilton, paywall, SocialNetworking, StanleyMcchrystal, TimeMagazine, top