Online document sharing site Scribd announced today that it is releasing Float, a mobile application that pulls content from news and content websites and lays it out in a homogenous reading format.
“The things online that you read aren’t just your PDFs or slide shows, [they include] news content and everything else — we want to bring those in with the content you publish and make it a consistent reading experience,” Matt Riley, Scribd’s director of products, told VentureBeat.
The app pulls important photos, the byline and text from stories produced by sites partnered with Scribd. It then displays it in a vertical reading format that embeds photos throughout the text. iPhone owners can then scroll down to continue reading a story, or swipe left or right to advance to the next part of the story as they would with an e-reader like the Nook or Kindle.
“You’ll find your favorite websites and put them on your main page, and we pull all the content in from the sites,” Riley said. “We try to provide a nice, clean reading experience for content on your phone — we strip out external links and strip out the ads.”
Readers can pinch to magnify the text or shrink it. Rather than zooming in on the text, which makes it a little less unsightly on the eyes, the app re-renders the text in a larger or smaller format. So it still looks crisp and propagates through to the rest of the article very quickly. The app aggressively caches content on the phone, and renders the rest of the story while the reader is on one part of the story, Riley said.
Another cool feature is the “night-time” reading feature, which changes the text to white on a black background and is easier to read in low-light environments without straining your eyes. Users can also bookmark content to a “reading list” similar to Instapaper — those articles are downloaded to the phone and users can read them offline.
Users can log in with an existing Scribd account or log in directly with Facebook. Users can also connect a Twitter account and see a “reading view” of their Twitter timelines. The app downloads the content from a connected link on a Twitter feed and displays it like other stories.
The whole experience feels very polished, save for split-second slowdowns when trying to zoom or shrink text. The app stuttered slightly when re-rendering text in a demonstration at Scribd’s headquarters on an iPhone 4 — which is currently the top-of-the-line smartphone that carries the app.
The app already syncs up to news content producers like Fortune, Time, Wired, The Associated Press and CNET. The company doesn’t plan on releasing a software developer kit to let individual sites add their content to the Float app. It will roll Float out to other sites over time, Riley said. Any content published on Scribd will also be available on the Float app.
“We’re starting off at launch with over 150 publishing partners who we’ve worked with proactively that are happy with putting their content in our [app],” Riley said. “We’re looking to the fall to add more premium partners.”
The application is available for free on the Apple App Store today. The company will release an iPad version fo the Float reader app next, and it will be available for Android devices later this year. Scribd is based in San Francisco, Calif. It has around 75 million users.
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