Scribd launches Float, a new mobile reading app

Float, Scribd's new mobile reading platform, delivers a customized reading experience to the iPhone and iPod Touch, and eventually other mobile devices.

Float is a new mobile reading platform from Scribd. A free iPhone app launches today. Screenshot by David Carnoy/CNET

Scribd, which has become known for being the "YouTube for documents," has launched a new app today called Float, which the company says is designed to improve the mobile reading experience.

We met with Scribd CEO and co-founder Trip Adler prior to launch and he showed us the new app in action. It's actually difficult to describe exactly what it does, but imagine it as a cross between Flipboard, Instapaper, and a filtered Twitter feed (see video below). You select various areas of interest and pick favorite Web sites to "follow" and you get stories delivered to you in a constantly updated feed. You can then select stories to view or store in your "library" for later viewing (iOS 5, which comes out this fall, will integrate a similar reading list option into Safari that allows you to save articles for later viewing).

You can also customize how the page appears much like you can using e-reading apps like Kindle and Nook, changing the font size or choosing a sepia tone (newspaper) or a night reading mode with a black background. You can also link your Facebook, Twitter, and Scribd accounts to Float and easily share content with those sites.

At first we thought the technology was some flavor of HTML5 but Adler says, "This goes beyond HTML5. It's next-generation technology." Apparently Float refers to the concept of a "floating text" reading experience.

Float is designed to improve the mobile reading experience (click to enlarge). Screenshot by David Carnoy/CNET

The basic idea is that it can be hard to read full Web pages on smaller devices like smartphones, so Float strips down those Web pages and converts them on the fly to the Float format. Scraping content like this tends to anger content owners, which is why Scribd has partnered with 150 Web sites, including Allrecipes.com, The Associated Press, The Atlantic, Engadget, Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, HuffingtonPost, InStyle, People, Salon, Scientific American, TheStreet, TechCrunch, Time, Wired, and three CBS Interactive properties: CBSNews.com, CHOW, and CNET (CHOW and CNET are owned by CBS) to display content in the new format.

"Float was developed in proactive partnership with publishers in order to build long-term revenue opportunities and ensure readers access to the best content," the press release says. "Along with advertising, premium content from publications will begin rolling out later this year via a simple subscription plan." Yes, at some point, Scribd will try to monetize this customized reading experience, and will be working toward revenue-sharing deals for content that sits behind paywalls (such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal).

Here's Float's bullet list of features:

  • Content from more than 150 popular Web sites and blogs
  • Floating text that can move up and down like a browser or left to right like a book
  • A "reading list" for offline reading
  • A "feed" with reading recommendations from your friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Scribd
  • A "library" that allows you to archive and organize all your reading by date, publisher, and title
  • One-touch font magnification
  • A dozen customized reading styles including nighttime and sunlight reading
  • Two-click sharing back to Facebook, Twitter, Scribd, or e-mail
  • Synchronization with all content to Float.com

The company says that Float is available starting today as a product suite, including a Web app, a Web bookmarklet, and an iPhone app available for free from Apple's App Store. To check it out, download the app or go to Float.com (yes, Scribd bought the URL). Adler says that an Android app will be available later this year along with an iPad app.

 

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