Students Launch Web-Based iPad Magazine And 48-Hour Magazine At Syracuse

When Caitlin Dewey found herself disappointed with mobile consumption experiences on most news sites, she decided to make her own. Using the money from a grant from the honors program at Syracuse University, Dewey and two other students — developer Brian Dawson and designer Kuan Luo — created and launched Salt, an iPad magazine, after 120 hours of planning and coding. Fifteen students contributed to the first issue, covering art and culture in Central New York.

The app is a browser-based site rather than an iPad application in the app store.

“To really open it up to the public, we figured we needed it to be web-based,” Dawson said. “We didn’t want to build it twice … And you’re kind of up to Apple’s discretion as to what is OK content when you go into their app store.”

The app is optimized for the iPad in terms of size and user interactions (swiping left and right to read more, for example). Dewey said the average engagement time is about 2.5 minutes, regardless of whether readers are viewing it on a device or on a desktop computer.

The No. 1 goal was to create an intuitive interface, rather than just a list of headlines that mimic the print consumption experience.

One of the most unique features of this site is the “highlight and share” tool that allows readers to highlight specific parts of the text, generate a unique permalink, and send that link to friends.

The entire backend is custom-built in HTML, JavaScript and PHP, while pulling stories from a database — meaning there is no content management system associated with it.

In building the app, the students consulted with Jennifer Brook, an information architect from The New York Times who inspired in Dewey a new mindset about the on/off mode for engaging with mobile consumers.

“People tend to be in ‘on’ mode where they’re plugged into Twitter and using it all the time. And then they can be in an ‘off’ mode which more closely mimics the mode we’re in when we’re reading a print magazine.”

Salt Magazine is very squarely positioned to engage with consumers in the ‘off’ mode. It’s not real time and it’s not hard, breaking news.

“When I started thinking of things in that context, for some reason it opened it up to me . . . We looked at how we can bring the experience of print — the mental and psychological element — into mobile technology,” Dewey said.

Dewey and crew are also launched a 48-hour magazine at SU as their last project before graduating. Inspired by Longshot Magazine, Dewey and Luo crowdsourced stories, photos, etc. for a magazine that they threw together in two days in a publication called TK Zine. See more at their Tumblr for the project.

To get an idea of the chaotic production process, a clip from the TumbleLog:

In the past nine hours, Kuan and I — with the invaluable help of Dan Bortz, line editor extraordinaire — have finished editing six stories and laying out 31 pages. I’m running home for a quick nap and a shower before we start in on the last batch, but so far, things look pretty good!

If you know of any other students doing awesome news projects, let us know and we’ll feature them here.