In an early teaser video for AOL’s new digital magazine, the project's lead director puckishly called it “the app for when you crap.”
But make no doubt about it, AOL's iPad app Editions, which launches this week, wants to be your personalized, daily reader for the bathroom, bedroom, and anywhere else you use your iPad.
Like digital magazine apps Flipboard, Zite, and SkyGrid, the free app pulls in content from across the Web and presents it in a personalized, streamlined, and easy-to-navigate format. But Editions includes a couple of key differences: It doesn’t provide news in real time—it only delivers one edition a day—and it’s not a bottomless pit of content.
Just like the real, printed deal, AOL’s new digital magazine offers only a finite number of pages so that users can get the satisfaction of reading it the whole way through.
“We want this to be a guilt-free experience,” said AOL’s senior director of mobile Sol Lipman. “Less is more.”
When launched, the app lets users personalize the cover and sign in with their social media of choice (although they have the option to skip this step). They also have the option to select and deselect sections (sports, tech, cooking, etc.), although the app comes pre-populated with content that users can refine as they read.
As they start flipping through the pages inside, they can check out the local weather, a calendar that pulls events from the iPad (and includes Facebook-generated birthdays), and a table of contents.
Similar to Flipboard, Editions presents neat boxes of content which, when tapped, expand to present articles in their entirety. As users read each article, they can indicate which content they want to continue reading. For example, an article from CNN on the debt ceiling deal might be tagged with "CNN," "Congress," and "economy." To customize his content, an Editions user could check CNN but deselect Congress.
To continuously personalize content for each reader, Lipman said the app uses algorithms that consider users' social media activity (assuming they log in to their networks) and reading histories, as well as the most covered topics on the Web.
Lipman also said that his team decided against a real-time, constantly updated approach to news because they wanted the experience to be an enhanced version of reading newspapers in the morning.
The app answers the question, "What do I need in the morning?" Lipman said.
Currently, users select the time they want the daily reader to deliver content. At a future date, he said, they might consider making a second daily edition available.
As for advertising, Editions currently only displays the ads already connected to publishers' content. But Lipman said in-app ads are on the horizon.
"We think ads in a magazine are part of the feature set," he said. “We want to monitor usage, see what people like, test out a few things, and see what our ad strategy will be.”