My digital literacy (real or perceived) was never so clear as when I was on a media tour in Mexico, and a middle-aged journalist with experience and writing chops I can only aspire to asked me to describe to him every single app on my phone, and what each one of them did. (He also took avid notes when small groups of us would riff on our favorite WordPress plug-ins.) As flattering as it was for someone I respected to think each one of the apps I’ve downloaded is useful, I was distinctly aware of the fact that all of the tools I find crucial would one day become extinct, and something bigger and better (or sleeker and quicker) would take their place.
It’s not easy to soothsay what will be “the next big thing,” and apps which I’m ecstatic about don’t always have mass appeal. However, after my recent post on apps for writers, I started thinking about the next wave of software and mobile applications that may very well have a big impact on media and publishing for readers, book authors, journalists, bloggers, publishers, and even marketers. Here’s a few that I think have tremendous potential, along with short descriptions. Some of these have been out for a while, some of them are in beta testing, some of them just launched and some are still fledgling ideas, but they all seem to have a solid grasp of problems in the industry, and potentially promising solutions. Please do share your favorite apps if you disagree with this list (or even if you don’t.)
Whoever said technology would kill long-form journalism clearly doesn’t know about Atavist, which is an iTunes-esque store for those wishing to purchase original, long-form narratives for their Kindles or iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod). (It will be available for the Android soon, as well.) And since people struggle while reading long-form pieces, the Atavist has several optional features to help them keep characters, geography and timelines straight. The Atavist Create platform is used to power the Atavist’s original stories, but it’s in closed beta if you’re interested in using the software to make your own work. Sign up for a beta invite and wait patiently if you’re intrigued!
Amazon doesn’t have to be the only site which lets readers preview books online, and Bublish’s social book discovery does it with style. Authors can create these book bubbles including excerpts, author insights, and links to synapses, author bios, websites and purchase buttons. Readers can search for books in their favorite genres, and you can share the bubbles on social media. It’s like going to the bookstore and looking through books in the section you’re interested in, except you just happen to page to the best pages (as indicated by the author). There’s something magical about bookstores–the smell of the text, the random stacks of misplaced books, and so forth–but for anyone who’s missed the experience of paging through a book before buying, this is a beautifully designed way of doing it. Whether enough authors will use Bublish to make it viable remains to be seen, but here’s hoping. The site is in live beta.
So you’re on your iPhone or iPad and see a link to an article, but you don’t really have time to read the whole thing. You just want to know the main points. And it’s impossible to skim, so despite your collection of apps such as Newsify and Reeder (and your personal newsfeed, courtesy of Prismatic), you end up playing Words With Friends instead. Circa’s trying to change this–they’ll find legit journalists to pick up on hot stories and summarize the important points–way better than twitter ever could. The interface is gorgeous, and of course, there’s a social media component–you can share the points or stories you find interesting. And you can follow the stories you’re interested in, so you can read breaking new updates–as opposed to rereading articles on the same subject. Best of all, it’s free. More information, and a link to the app, is available on Circa’s website. No iPhone? Sit tight–Circa’s working on an Android app as well.
Contextly has a recommended stories widget, which allows writers to select “related” stories, while algorithms select content that may be of interest to the reader. Why is this important, and more effective than pop-up adds? Because it presents stories in a larger context (hence the name), allowing readers to develop a more nuanced understanding of content than simply keeping up with the latest (and honestly, sometimes misleading) headlines. Contextly also sends out analytic reports made for news sites (rather than e-commerce sites). These are both features available through WordPress plugins, and in fact Contextly can be installed as a WordPress plugin itself (search for “Contextly Related Links”) for free. So perhaps what makes Contextly a site to watch is that it’s founded by online journalist Ryan Singel, who has his finger on the pulse–so it’s not far off base to expect much more from the former Wired.com blogger. (Similarly, Atavist piques interest simply by boasting the New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson as one of its founders. The jury’s still out on whether a rock star founder is a predictor of industry-changing apps, but it certainly creates an interesting narrative.) What’s intriguing is that Singel states that Contextly will be geared towards journalists, not commerce–so I’m intrigued to learn how finding related links (for example) will look different. Contextly also appears to be developing solutions for e-mail subscription lists, advertising, ticket sales, whitepaper programs, and more. Costs for Contextly (after a free 30-day trial) range from $19 to $99/month. Check it out here: http://contextly.com.
The cool thing about the Ebyline app for writers is that it provides a streamlined location to create a portfolio with some of your best clips, pitch publishers directly, apply for open gigs, and get paid via Paypal without the fee (which the buyer absorbs). Publishers can buy news stories or hire freelancers through the site. You can sign contracts online, manage 1099 forms, and get paid quickly. Ebyline’s been around for several years, and has a lot of potential once more publishers begin to use it. Take a tour here: https://www.ebyline.com/tour.
If you don’t want to have 400 browser windows open at any given time, you’ll love this app–it allows you to save articles for futrue reading. It’s on the iPhone and iPad, iPod touch, Kindle and Android. You can buy an iOS app for $4.99, plus there’s a $1/month subscription if you’d like to use more advanced features (like full-text search.) “The Feature” has cool handpicked articles and essays you can read later. For more information go to http://www.instapaper.com/.
If you’re a small media outlet looking to compete with the big dogs, you have to know who to talk to. Finding industry insiders, experts and influencers isn’t always easy, and neither is finding cutting edge but highly specialized content. Little Bird allows users to run reports, research specific topics, and see how connected they are to experts in the industry. Little Bird is in private beta, but the robot librarians have created reports for prospective beta testers to sift through. For more information, go to http://getlittlebird.com/.
If you’re a marketer, this app will rock your world–or at least make your job much easier. It pulls together data from Google Analytics, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, LinkedIn and Facebook Insights to help you figure out what impact you’re actually having and what’s working, as well as pulling together data on the demographics of your clients and potential clients. This application may be created for social media marketers, but as the world of media changes and the space becomes even more competitive, it’s crucial to know which articles are read, and to understand what’s working and what isn’t. This could be a very powerful tool. Costs start at $25/month, or $199/month for the agency version. A white label version is $500+. Check it out at http://www.unilyzer.com/.
Writer.ly wants to change the face of the publishing industry by allowing authors to connect directly with service providers while retaining control of revenue, marketing and copyright. You can post biddable job requests for marketers, book designers, copy editors and more. This service could be a nice alternative to LuLu and Amazon’s CreateSpace, as long as it doesn’t turn into a race-to-the-bottom cesspool like Elance. The site’s not live yet, but you can sign up to receive an invitation with a promo code as soon as they launch at http://writer.ly/ (or you can use the aff link they gave me, though I’m not sure what it’s for: http://join.writer.ly/?lrRef=aFFbN)
Riffle looks like a hybrid between Pinterest and Goodreads. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sold on either (though it’s Pinterest’s obsession with cataloguing shopping lists which has always grated my nerves), but I know I’m in the minority. With Riffle, you can share your favorite books, write reviews, share the content on your various social networks and follow other people. You can request an invite on their site, and they’ll tell you to wait and give you a personalized link to share with friends, though I’m not quite sure why. In any case, it’s here: http://l.aunch.us/FaFy.
I’ll admit that I’m adding Jurnid mostly out of abject curiousity. All you can really do right now is sign up for a personal invitation to an app for journalists, in what promises to be “emergent journalism,” and aside from unverified rumors and media hearsay, that’s all I know. But there are reasons they’re on my radar, so I’m definitely keeping an eye out.