Zeen aims to make it easy to publish great web magazines (and other content)2012-12-06
I’ve been playing with the beta of Zeen, the new social publishing platform from YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. Communicators, take note. This could evolve in short order into a service worthy of your attention.
At first glance, Zeen looks like yet another content curation site. It takes only a few minutes creating a zeen to realize it’s more than that. It’s a web publishing tool, making it easy to create visually appealing e-magazines, ebooks, scrapbooks, guides, manuals and a host of other formats, incorporating your own narrative and digital assets while also adding videos, images and words from others to your work.
It’s not perfect, but what beta product is? Feedback from users should fix some of the issues, while other enhancements will undoubtedly emerge with time. Even with shortcomings—like the inability to upload your own images (except for the cover art for each of your zeens)—it still shows huge potential as a way to share content with audiences. The content you create is that which you write yourself or import from channels like Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube; you can also enter the URL for any content anywhere on the web.
After getting an invitation, I took a look at some of the zeens that have already been set up. One of the most popular zeens, from FutureMed, is an in-depth look at electronic cigarettes. The 12-page ebook covers a variety of dimensions of these new-fangled products that let smokers inhale vapor instead of smoke. Each page covers a different aspect of the products, many featuring posts from third-party sources (such as an article from The Huffington Post) along with images (such as a diagram demonstrating how electronic cigarettes work) and the author’s own narrative.
Another zeen collects interviews with Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. There’s one on robots and ethics, one offering photography tips to rookies, another on barbecue basics, and another covering “10 stomach obliterating roller coasters.” Each contains a table of contents labeling what’s covered on each page. Users can clip any page they like to their own links page, making them available to add to their own zeens (almost like repinning somebody else’s Pinterest pin on your own board).
There’s considerable flexibility in how you create a zeen, from the font you use to background colors to the design theme (reminscent of WordPress or Tumblr themes). Zeens look good and work well on tablets and smartphones.
My experiment is a 10-page zeen on communication planning, drawing on the elements IABC’s Gold Quill judges use to evaluate an entry. So far, I’ve only done the first part—establishing the business need for communication—but I’ll be filling in the rest over the next few days, incorporating my own thoughts with blog posts and videos that add further value to the subject. At some point, I may open it up to collaborative editing so other communicators can incorporate their own material.
One could conceivably create an ongoing magazine with each zeen representing a new issue.
There are, as I said, plenty of issues to be resolved. The experience isn’t exactly immersive, there are some features that aren’t easy to figure out, publishing options are pretty basic, you can’t restrict viewership of a zeen (like you can a YouTube video) and you can’t embed a zeen on another site. There’s also no commenting functionality for any site.
Still, the potential is readily apparent in zeens. I’m waiting for more people to get access to see what kind of creative uses it can be put to.
Zeen isn’t the only new web publishing platform. Medium is an effort from Obvious Corporation, the company set up to allow Twitter’s creators to buy the company from its original investors. Medium lets you create a post using multiple media and store them in a collection, such as Kristin Kelley’s Airport Stories, which for a hardcore business traveller like me was a lot of fun. Collections also can include posts from others. But as visually pleasing as Medium is—a kind of a mashup of Tumblr and Pinterest—I see Zeen as having more utility for communicators who want a drop-dead easy way to quickly create useful content.
Have you tried Zeen yet? What do you think?