Building a great online comic book reader

Joey Manley, who knows a lot about publishing web comics, wrote a great article covering the ComicMix Phase Two launch and focused on the quality of our online comic book reader.

Overall he was really kind to us. Being that he’s a guy who has obsessed over the problem of reading comic books online, his positive review means a lot. He said that there was nothing wrong with the interface, but added that there were a few extra things he’d like to see β€” some missed opportunities.

First, Joey asked for permalinks to individual comic pages. His commenter Bill said “Comments per page are a must for webcomics.” Commenter Gerhard Bahnsen said “permalinks are a total must” and likes it when each page is commentable. Are you sensing a theme here?

Like Joey Manley, I have obsessed over how to read a tall multi-page comic book online for quite a while and I have some reasons for not having permalinks. There is a solution that lets people link straight to a specific page within an issue, but I’m still not sold on having comments for each page. That topic deserves its own blog post and will get one this week.

Second, he asked for full-content RSS feeds. I could see if I was an independent webcomic artist and my primary goal was to tap into the audience that already read webcomics via RSS feeds. I’d put my whole 60K three-panel strip into a feed for free at full size. I wouldn’t care what method people use to read my daily strip as long as they read it. But providing full-content feeds of multiple full-color 1MB comic book pages β€” not in our current online reader and not as part of our site β€” isn’t high on our list. We pay our creators competitive industry rates, you know.

We will definitely have RSS feeds to alert people when our new issues get published and feeds for just about everything else on our site soon. Those feeds will include preview images, probably thumbnails, but not our giant 1024×1574 images.

Joey said that there were probably more ways the site could be “bloggified.” I agree! I’ve built blogging platforms before and, although this is not running on a purely blog publishing platform, I will not be leaving many standard blog features out. The only reason they’re not in there now is that this new platform was built from scratch in the last two months. I left my old platform behind at AOL along with a pretty stellar development team. Hey, that’s the subject of another upcoming post.

His commenters pushed for even more:

Gerhard suggested adding a way to save what place you were at in a story that’s longer than a five-page installment. Fantastic! We were working towards something like that, but it was more along the lines of remembering what issues our members had read. We will add that to our list. I already told Christoph he needed to add that “remembers your place” feature for his inline podcast player months ago. Why do I not think to add these things to my own products? πŸ˜‰

He asked for a few other features that we have coming up in Phase Three, but rule number one of Phase Three is “No one talks about Phase Three.”

Gerhard didn’t like having to search all over the site to find our issues. Great observation. With just one comic to show the world on Tuesday β€” and only a couple in the first week β€” we hadn’t yet had some of the listing pages working. You pretty much had to click the promo links at the top of the home page or on the covers on the home page. Navigation options will increase as we add more content and as we, um, add more navigation.

As of Friday morning we have a primitive comic issues listing page that you can get to from the “Comics” tab at the top of every page. It’s not exactly how we’ll be listing our issues in the future, but for now it works like a blog’s home page β€” listing content with the most recent stuff on top.

I’m loving these discussions about how best to read tall multi-page comic books online. If you’ve got any suggestions, let me know.

Published by Brian Alvey

I build software that makes creative people more powerful.

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