Figuring Out When Apps Make Sense

I wrote yesterday about a decision by Technology Review to move away from apps and toward broader use of HTML5. Generally, I think that’s a good approach for publishers who aren’t willing or able to pay the escalating cost of trying to control everything.

That said, I still see good uses for content-driven apps:

  • When the underlying content is variable, subject to change or useful to analyze in structured ways over time; and
  • When analysis is user-driven, based in available content and not necessarily something a publisher can predict.

The first case is one that many database-driven publishers have already addressed. Content providers like Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg create and manage content in ways that support structured analysis, even up to minute the content is created.

By comparison, data aggregated for a single issue (monthly or weekly) is driven by its source format (print). As a result the content is not organized in a way that supports structured analysis.

The second case is a bit more intricate. A decade ago, I worked on a project that examined opportunities to query content from the Bible (various English-language translations, for example) and present side-by-side comparisons of the King James Version and the Good News Bible, as test cases. We also looked at presenting an English-language version alongside the notes made by the translator.

Because the Bible and its translations represent highly structured content, displaying different versions requires a relatively straightforward style-sheet application. The thing that varies is not the style sheet, but the source content, which is chosen by the user.

A host of historical and current translations of the Bible are available, and markets are small enough that it makes little sense to maintain comparisons for all of them. But an app that could draw from multiple sources to create a diglot certainly would empower users and increase engagement with the content.

Publishers thinking through the creation and use of an app might ask themselves two questions:

  • Is our content useful to analyze in ways that are separate from the ways we have chosen to display it? and 
  • Can we create a uniform app that offers user-determined ways to engage with our content?

In this light, developing a single-issue app seems harder to justify.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.