I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to describe the newly released Longform app for iPad. It’s a digital magazine on steroids. It’s an infinite magazine, a magazine multiplex. It’s a portable reading room where new issues arrive daily. It’s an evolving anthology of nonfiction journalism.
The point is, it’s awesome. If you have an iPad and you prefer longer, more substantial articles over 350-word pieces, you’ll love it.
Longform has been around a while and is one of several good reading services, but it’s never been part of my weekly routine. I’ve always got a backlist of things to read that I save through Readability and shoot to my Kindle each morning, and that keeps me occupied on the subway.
But when it comes to the iPad, which I tend to use mostly at home, I’m frequently left wanting for high quality reading material. I haven’t encountered a digital magazine yet that isn’t a waste of my time and my device’s onboard memory. All the RSS and social media aggregators–apps like Pulse, Flipboard, Feedly, and Zite–can be a lot of fun, but aside from focusing on shallower content they all suffer from the Filter Bubble. Even Google News hides potentially interesting articles if I’m logged into my Google account when I visit.
Bypassing your filter bubble is one of the things Longform excels at. Like the better general interest print magazines, when you browse Longform’s selection of articles you’re positioning yourself for serendipitous discovery. Longform’s co-founder Max Linsky points out another way the filter bubble can fail you:
“One of the things I realized after spending two years reading a really insane amount of this stuff is that after you read an incredible 5,000-word story about warlords in Afghanistan, you don’t really want to dive into another 5,000-word story about warlords in Afghanistan.”
The second thing Longform excels at is reach: along with offline access to your Readability list (Readability still lacks its own native iOS app), Longform provides a well-designed, clutter-free access point to around two dozen sources, both print and online, that are known for producing high quality writing, like The Atlantic, NY Review of Books, The Awl, and n+1.To avoid the problems that earlier content aggregators (like Zite) have encountered when it comes to territorial content providers, by default Longform displays the articles in web-page mode, meaning ads and all. Fortunately you can change that default setting from within the app if you like.
The drawbacks? It’s not free. It’s iPad only. That list of two dozen sources starts to look pretty small once you get past the honeymoon phase.
But these are small complaints. There’s no way around the $5 cost, but it’s about what you’d pay for one issue of one magazine from a newsstand, and Longform will provide far more hours of quality reading. The Readability integration means you can add articles from all over the web, so you’re not restricted to Longform’s suggested sources. As for the iPad limitation, I just hope there are Android and smartphone versions in the works, so that everyone with a tablet device can soon enjoy it.
(Note: If you don’t want to spend the $5, or you need something that works with an iPhone or iPod Touch, or you want blog and social network feeds mixed in with the longform writing, try the free Flipboard app instead.)