There is a lot of content out there on the Web, huge swathes of fascinating and engaging content. The problem has become locating the good stuff amidst all the noise. The trend for pumping out fluffy content really quickly has been growing and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find those truly good, in-depth pieces. They’re out there somewhere. You just need a little help finding them.
Longform is an iPad application that attempts to help you to discover just that, long form content. Not only that, Longform provides you with a very nice place to read those pieces along with handy features for sharing and utilizing your other services. Let’s take a look at this app and do some reading!
This application is an extension of the website Longform.org. This site is a curated list of some of the best long reads from around the Web. The site is closely integrated with some “read later” type services, such as Instapaper, Readability, Kindle and Pocket (formerly Read It Later). The site makes it incredibly easy to mark some articles for later viewing through your favorite service on your favorite device. You can certainly just click right through to the article from the list as well.
In short, it’s a wonderful source to get to some of the really great content out there on the Web. The editors and contributors hand pick each article and as an added bonus you’re able to send them to your favorite reading service. It’s fantastic.
The folks at Longform.org decided to extend the experience to an iPad application which is what we’re looking at here. It isn’t just a website to iPad app port, but rather an application developed with Longform.org in mind.
The content is really what this application is all about and it definitely feels that way. The interface is probably what you’d classify as minimalist. It’s very basic. You’ll see your saved articles and subscriptions along a left-hand navigation menu with the articles displaying in a scrollable fashion on the right side. Each article displays the title, source and a short blurb about the article. On top of the menu area are some controls for customizing your subscription list, adding new subscriptions, and the settings for the application.
It’s all very, very easy to navigate and essentially has no learning curve if you’ve used any iPad application before. You’ll be reading in no time which is perfect given that’s what Longform is all about.
This application relies on pulling information from other sources. Those other sources are called subscriptions. The philosophy with Longform is that you’re restricted to subscribing to a curated list of websites. The editors and contributors of Longform have narrowed down the list for you, making your path to great content even quicker.
This may sound like a serious restriction to some people, but I’m seeing this as a really great feature. There’s an abundance of great content out there and you can either spend your time digging for it, or reading it. Will the editors miss some things you may think are awesome? Yeah, probably. However, these folks have narrowed down the list to a manageable number and all of their sources produce great long form articles. Allowing the first cut to be made by some folks that have been doing this for a while is totally fine with me. More time to read.
I should note that all of the Longform app’s content is available offline, so it’s perfect for those situations when you don’t have network access.
A section of the Longform menu is dedicated to saved articles. This uses Readability as the tool for your saved articles. Your reading list for Readability can be viewed from here and any article you view in Longform can be saved to your Readability list (more on this shortly).
So yeah, this does sound a little strange, but essentially it is just a way to save articles for reading later. Readability is just baked in and used as this component of Longform. While this does work, I would have liked to have seen a more in app function to save articles for reading later. If you don’t have a Readability account there really is no other method for saving articles.
While I would say that the core feature of Longform is the actual discovery of great long form content, the reading of said content comes in a close second.
Tapping on an article will open up either the website for the article or the article in the Longform read mode. Buttons on top let you toggle back and forth from one view to the other and a setting enables you to set what view you’ll see by default each time you open an article. I really enjoy this aspect of the application. You’re able to find some excellent reads and then read them, all in a very solid content-only view right within the same application.
Some standard features are available in this mode such as sharing an article to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or via email. It’s also possible to save the article to Readability (save for later for this app’s purpose), Instapaper and Pocket (formerly Read It Later). You also have some basic view customization options that allow you to change the font size and type as well as the margins and line height of read mode.
I simply love the service that Longform.org provides. They put thought into finding some of the best long form content available on the web and they do it for free. Wading through the mess that the Web can be sometimes to find the good stuff can be completely daunting.
Now, with the expansion to an iPad app, we’re seeing that service extended. To be honest, I felt great about contributing my $4.99 to purchase this app to repay them for all the content they’ve directed me to over the years.
I think the concept of Longform.org lends itself perfectly to an iPad application. People do a lot of reading on their iPads and actually longer form reading is particularly nice when compared to a computer. Applications like Readability and Instapaper do cover this space quite well, but where this app shines is the fact that it presents you with all sorts of great reads. You can open the app and be reading a great article within seconds. The article was hand delivered to you and you essentially did nothing to find it.
However, I think there is some room for improvement. Connection to the services they’ve been so tightly connected for so long is great, but I’d like to see this app be a little more capable on its own. There are an abundance of little features that could be added that could make this already solid application into a really great one.
Longform is one of those applications that feels like it exists for the greater good. It helps us to discover some of the best content the Internet has to offer. It cuts away all the junk for us and reveals only the best parts. There is so much great writing out there that so many people don’t even know exists and Longform is there to bring that stuff to light. I’m excited that this application exists and I’m excited to see where it goes in the coming years.