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Long-form reading thrives on the iPad

Joel Mathis | April 12, 2011
The Internet is doing incalculable damage to our brains--or so the chest-beating of recent years would have you believe.

The Internet is doing incalculable damage to our brains--or so the chest-beating of recent years would have you believe. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds, the argument goes, we now suffer from short-circuited attention spans, leaving us unable to sit down and read a good book or even a long magazine article without a bit of digital multitasking.

While the Cassandras spend their time writing good books and long magazine articles about the phenomenon, something interesting is taking place. Long-form writing--both fiction and non-fiction--is flourishing. And the iPad is giving the format a new platform on which to thrive.

Need proof? Consider the success of the iBooks and Kindle apps, which typically rank among the most-downloaded free offerings in the iOS App Store. But there's also been a quiet proliferation of other offerings that make it easy to curl up and spend a quiet, contemplative afternoon with the iPad.

But which services and apps deserve your attention? We've looked around the App Store--and beyond--to find offerings that make long-form writing come to life on the iPad.

The aggregators

Since the Internet first came into widespread public use, aggregation sites have offered Web surfers links to content from around the 'Net--Arts & Letters Daily is among the best-known and longest-lived. But the popularity of apps like Instapaper and Read It Later have inspired a younger crop of sites devoted to featuring and popularizing the best long magazine-form writing--sites like Longform.org, Give Me Something to Read, and Longreads, whose Twitter feeds are great additions to your Flipboard app for replicating the magazine-flipping experience.

If you're looking for an iOS offering that does all the aggregating for you, TheBrowser.com's "best of the moment" app, BotmHD ( Macworld rated 2.5 out of 5 mice ), might merit some attention. Each day, editors select five to ten pieces of eclectic online nonfiction--from magazines, journals, blogs, and even video sources--and collect them for easy viewing within the app.

There's a problem, though--BotmHD doesn't provide a way to save or bookmark interesting pieces for later reading or to download them for offline viewing. That limits the app's usefulness, but the editorial selection is so interesting that you might want to use mobile Safari to access The Browser's Website. From there, you can use Instapaper or Read It Later to capture that content for later reading.

The innovators

While aggregation services largely pick up magazine-style writing that's already available in print, other writers and publishers are looking at ways to create new forms of content that better match the digital format. The result is something of a hybrid--longer than a magazine story but shorter than a full-blown book, often with multimedia augmentation you can't get from print alone.

 

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