Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Defense of Issuu

I'm not convinced of the utility of Issuu as a solution for online literary journals and I think it might have a couple problems, but I use it for three reasons. First, it makes content uniform -- it automatically adjusts itself to every user's screen and does not rely on up-to-date versions of Adobe Reader to ensure an eBook is formatted properly. Second, I am still fond of turning pages as an enhanced reading experience; pages present text in viewable sections and allow readers to focus their attention.

While I appreciate the sublime layout of online journals like elimae and Alice Blue, that format doesn't work with long texts or a poem series. Lily Hoang's Lamination Colony eBook and Zachary German's at Bear Parade are superbly formatted, but I think there is a difference in the way designers layout these journals for the web compared to the way book makers approach making things for the web.

Finally, when used properly, Issuu is the most attractive and easily manipulated reading surface available online. And I'm not just referring to the way they bend the pages and animate the flip; when read at full-screen Issuu's background highlights the page for total maximum eye sweetness.

People complain about the zoom/scrolling feature that Issuu defaults to at mouse-click because it is difficult to control. I completely agree with this complaint, and I am surprised that Issuu prioritizes this function. The full screen view is much more reader-friendly. It's hands-down the best way to approach an Issuu document, so I think it should be the function that results when clicking the page, rather than the zoom feature. (Jimmy Chen characterizes zooming well when he says, "Imagine having your nose to a page then getting hit in the head with a force going 20 miles per hour." -- It's that counter-intuitive.)

(I admit, however, that full-sized [at least 8.5 x 11"] glossy magazines don't interface well with 17" monitors or 15.4" laptops, even when read at full-screen. The page size prohibits Issuu from magnifying the content to a point at which the text is easily readable. For online journal design, it's best to keep the page size at the same dimension as a trade paperback and to set the text in large type. Online journals that design specifically for Issuu have the advantage here, and glossy mags probably mostly use Issuu to showcase their design.)

I don't understand the complaint that Issuu is trying to hybridize the page and the screen, or to use the screen to mimic the page. That perspective is just wrong. Pertaining to online literature, I see Issuu's primary role as host for a book's layout in an easily read format. People who design books and not websites now have a service that allows them to produce work for the web, and that is a clear benefit.

Readers should complain to journals when the text is too small to read, and they should learn to use the tools that Issuu provides. (Ultimately, the only tool anyone should need is the full-screen button; reading this way rivals reading on the john.) My defense here has focussed on readability, but there are a number of other worthwile services that Issuu provides -- for instance, their "library" or "bookshelf" or whatever should prove to be a valuable sort of social networking device, or at least a way for readers to share what they like. Readers who like Keyhole might find their way to Ocho by looking at their friend's bookmarks. It's a tool for success.

The online literary community should support Issuu so that they can continue to improve and grow until Google buys them and perfects their concept.


Martin Ferro-Thomsen said...

Adam, thanks for taking your time to write this in-depth look at Issuu's services. I really agree with much of what is said here, and will make sure your insights are passed on to our team.

As I wrote in a comment on Chen's blog, we believe that different types of publications deserve different view modes, and we're working to perfect our software to meet that challenge. And, like you say, layout and screen sizes are equally important factors when discussing readability online!

It's great to see that you noticed some of our other features; we do a lot of pretty innovative work (so we feel) to get those mindblowing publications noticed by the right audience. Thanks a lot for encouraging the publishing community to try our services. We hope many will take you up on that.

Martin, Issuu

ryan call said...

i like issuu

Matthew Salesses said...

i mostly like issuu. when i first saw it, it looked really pretty.

The blog of Adam Robinson and Publishing Genius Press