Digital Spectrum

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

IEEE’s Spectrum magazine is making a digital distribution available[1]. I’ve been trying to use it over the last couple of months and have opted to get the digital version from next year. It’s a mutually exclusive offer, you either get bits or you get paper. The digital carrot is very compelling:

  • You get your Spectrum significantly earlier, fresh news is always alluring.
  • You don’t end up with a pile of paper that gathers dust.

So, like I said, I’ve opted for digital distribution. Piles of IEEE emails on the subject have compelled me to do so. There’s a rather large BUT though:

I will no longer read Spectrum.

Why? Well, the actual news content of any printed publication is valueless these days so this isn’t the reason Spectrum gets read in the first place. I’ll have skimmed anything interesting from the weekly news mailouts I get from IEEE, ACM, and SANS — not to mention news feeds like Slashdot, and Google. I read the paper edition of Spectrum because I can read it in the toilet, it’s not pretty but it’s true. Spectrum has well written and detailed stories on subjects that I wouldn’t normally investigate, it doesn’t matter that the information isn’t breaking-news and I’m using time in which I’d otherwise be staring at the door.

What does the new digital Spectrum do for me?

  • It employs an annoying and cumbersome non-web online reader.
  • It ties me to reading only when I’m in front of a computer.
  • I can’t read it on the toilet, or in bed late at night.

These are both locations where I tend not to take the laptop, and, really, I’d prefer neither one to be any more digitally enabled. So, I’ll only be able to read Spectrum while I’m sitting at my desk, or when laptopping elsewhere. But in these cases I usually have work to do, and in-between work times I have the entire Internet before me. Why opt to read Spectrum when I have expert-selected content feeds?

As for the first point, the digital Spectrum interface is crap. The real Spectrum killer for me is in the toilet, but usability is pretty important too. Has anyone ever seen one of these non-web web-content systems that doesn’t suck? They would be better off just sticking to PDF, but then I guess they’d loose whatever DRM the system they’re using provides. I’ve seen a lot of publications go for such non-web online systems during these web-or-die times, most of them have either given up (nobody reads because they made it too difficult) or switched to the sanity of just sticking with HTML. (Example: The West Australian, a newspaper I grew up with but stopped reading when I left WA because their online setup was unusable. Now they use a site that looks like every other news site, while design-dorks may shudder and think “urgh, how ununique”, my opinion is: good, I know how to use this site. I’m after news, not obstructions.)

So, despite all my complaining, I’ve opted for digital. But now I wont read Spectrum. Logic anyone?! I’m not at all sad about this, it was my decision. I have other magazines to stock the toilet, and now I wont have to debate with myself over how long to keep Spectrums and feel bad about throwing stacks of them in the recycling every 6-or-so months (so: periodical karma improved by about one fifth). It is intriguing to reflect on these moments when something leaves your life, why is it so and what do the stirrings of these surface currents indicate is lurking below. Then get on with life, differently informed.

[1] Using Qmags, which seems to offer quite a selection of publications. Maybe I’m in a minority, thinking the interface is crap. Or maybe there just happens to be enough people willing to use it to keep the thing alive. I’m not investigating their service in detail, the IEEE Spectrum interface might not even be what they use to deliver most of their titles. Some “Secure” Acrobat/ebook file would be another option, though I don’t like them much either (still not loo-compatible in my mind, and printouts defeat the purpose).