August 2, 2011
We knew it was coming, and the day has finally arrived – the Editions application for iPad has launched in the iTunes app store. Aol has been working for the past nine months on creating an elegant, simple, yet sophisticated and personalized news magazine for your iPad. I got a sneak peek of Editions in May when we visited Aol Palo Alto on our Spring Tech Cocktail West Coast Swing. I was impressed by what I saw then, but the team has obviously spent a lot more time optimizing the app for a more polished experience.
Senior Director of Mobile, Sol Lipman, took some time out of his busy schedule today to chat with me about their launch. According to Sol, his team did research, including conducting surveys and examining iPad usage stats on internal Aol sites to determine user content consumption behavior. From the beginning, Aol took a pretty holistic approach in terms of understanding people’s habits and how to offer a variety of news based on your personal preferences.
“We found that iPad usage spikes in the morning and at night. So we focused the product on the morning experience. We’re not trying to build the end-all news consumption application. We wanted to create your ‘new’ morning paper, personalized on the iPad in the form of a magazine.”
So that’s exactly what Editions is looking to do – fit into your daily morning routine. This is a great niche to go after, as my current morning routine includes Flipboard, Zite and FLUD ,along with a couple of other publisher applications. When I asked Sol how he would consider this app success, and he replied:
“I’d be happy to have people using Editions every day for 20 minutes in the morning – that’s our goal.”
Testing the Application
The first-time-user experience asks for your location and encourages you to sign-in to your Facebook, Twitter and AIM/AOL accounts. Editions uses the location information and social accounts to personalize different components of the experience. Once that’s done, the first page indicated that I now had a 45 page magazine.
Page 1: Local weather and my Facebook friends birthdays are pulled in, along with an overview of my week’s meetings. It looks like Editions is pulling my calendar information directly from the iPad calendar app, as my list of meetings seemed quite outdated (from my old AOL days!) – apparently I had no idea how outdated my calendar app was.
Page 2: A full table of contents, with sections based on the areas of interest I selected. The rest of the magazine is organized by section with lots of articles from different sources – and a bookmarking function (probably not tied in with AOL Favorites). Once on an article, Editions displays a list of keywords/tags, which users can use to provide feedback on whether they like particular topics (to vote for more or less of specific topics).
At the end of my 45 pages, which sounds like a lot, but was quite easy to page through, Editions presented me with my horoscope. It was pretty spot-on today. What might also be interesting would be if Editions added a new section for current daily deals in my area, which could consolidate Groupon, LivingSocial and Aol’s own Wow.
Editions takes on personalizing your news by keeping an eye on your Facebook, Twitter and AOL accounts, your location and both your active and passive inputs. It creates an interest profile that can be edited in the application by offering feedback about your various interests and sources you like. Editions also keeps track of things like which articles you read and for how long. Editions will then make some assumptions and bring you news about the types of content you spend more time on.
Of course, I am over simplifying their recommendation engine, as there are some special algorithms that also help with this personalization process. Finally, you can set the time that your daily Editions are created and delivered.
Editions pulls its content from a set of Aol-curated content sites. Currently, users can edit sections to include or exclude specific sources and search for additional sites to include. Also nice is the ability in each section to follow people, companies, teams or things. For example, in Sports, you can follow the teams you are most interested in, and in the Technology section users can follow a product (eg, iPhone) or company (eg, Apple).
Unfortunately, since the source search is currently a limited list of sites, there is no way to add feeds into the application – so Tech Cocktail is not yet available in Editions at launch. But don’t worry, we were assured that Tech Cocktail will be added within the next week or so, so be sure check back in 5 to 7 days and it should be available.
The application was developed mostly in Palo Alto, but lots of different groups were involved in the application development. When I asked if either TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington or Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington had their hands in the development of the app, Sol offered emphatically:
“No, not at all, especially not Arrington.”
I think Sol and team have done a fantastic job of avoiding feature creep and creating a streamline application for a specific purpose. The app design looks great too, and it will definitely join my morning rotation. You might recall Editions early slogan was “the app for when you crap,” and I while it may fit into that somewhat humorous scenario for some, the application is a far cry from bathroom humor.
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