The New Yorker's online Digital Reader, an evaluation  NOV 11 2008

The Mind-Blowingly Wonderful: It's every single page of every single issue of the New Yorker, from 1925 to the present, available online whenever you need it. No 9 DVDs needed. No plug-ins either, just a plain old web browser. And it's free with your subscription. Sweet fancy licorice!

The Good: Individual issues are bookmarkable. Forward and back arrows work to flip pages. If you're not a subscriber, you can sign up for four-issue trial or subscribe to just the digital version (~$40/year). At full zoom, the text is clear and easy to read. When an article doesn't appear for free on the New Yorker site, you're directed to the article in the Digital Reader. The DR is in beta and they're soliciting feedback.

The Bad and Not-So-Bad: The Digital Reader works on the iPhone...more or less. It's definitely not optimized for the phone and crashes often but works in a pinch. Some of the issues are missing...1962 and 1963 are largely AWOL. Issue archive always defaults to 2008, even while you're browsing an issue from 1937. Keyword search doesn't seem to work on older issues, i.e. most of the archive. There are a bunch of cool features that they could build on top of this thing: archive-wide search, compile/share lists of articles with other subscribers (i.e. make your own NYer mag from articles from back issues), keyword cross-referencing, etc.

The Ugly: Sadly, the actual reading interface is the worst part of the DR. The reader's interaction with the app relies too much on the mouse...more shortcut keys are needed (zoom, shortcut to TOC, move to top of next column, next/prev issue, etc.). Flipping through the digital magazine is easy enough but reading cannot comfortably be done at the page-flipping size. But when you zoom in, you need to zoom back out before you can flip to the next page. Guess how long it takes until that gets completely annoying? (A: After precisely one page turn.) I'd also like the magazine to fill as much of my screen as it can but instead the size of the viewing window is constrained. Bascially, make the thing as big as the screen will allow and give the reader one button to push to keep reading.

Even more maddening: after a short time, you have to re-login. I don't know if this is triggered by a period of inactivity or what, but it gets on all my nerves. (A "remember me" option that works across browser sessions would be welcome too.)

All-in-all, not enough attention was paid to the overall experience...it feels a bit like drinking fine wine from a sippy cup. That the Digital Reader exists is a great start but its shortcomings put too many roadblocks between the reader and her enjoyment of these great magazines, making the experience less wonderful than it could be. People *love* this magazine and the New Yorker should do everything it can to make people love reading it online.

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