Did the New York Public Library Just Build the Magazine App of the Future?

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The new Biblion app could be a model for how to present information on the tablet

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Silicon Valley watcher Tom Foremski likes to say that "every company is a media company" in the Internet age. Well, it's not just companies that innovating. The New York Public Library put out an app today called Biblion that's one of the slickest media consumption experiences that I've seen for the iPad.

Combining essays, photos and documents from the library's archives, the whole experience feels more like an exhibit than a publication ... but maybe that's precisely where magazine apps should be aiming.

The first edition of Biblion focuses on the 1939-1940 World Fair. And what's fascinating to me is that you don't feel like you're reading something about the fair, but experiencing what it's like to tool around behind the scenes at a museum or in an archive. The impression is spatial. You chart your own path, find pieces of text, photos or video, and then assemble them yourself into a narrative of the fair.

Not only does this brilliantly mimic the process of going to a world fair, but I think it could be an interesting model for translating web content to the iPad. Instead of any kind of linear presentation ("the stream"), a user would be presented with topic areas populated by photos, text, links, videos. Imagine what the Mississippi River flood app might look like in this scenario. A central explainer screen would link off to archival video, live readings from Army Corps of Engineer gauge readings, interactive diagrams and news stories.

So, kudos to the library and the app developer, Potion Design. I look forward to stealing your ideas.

Image: New York Public Library.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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