A few months ago, Time Inc. — the home of some of the biggest consumer publishing brands in the world—asked Postlight if we could help build a new kind of video-first reading experience for a new product called Instant.me (launched by People/Entertainment Weekly).
Time Inc. is really good at creating news experiences that hundreds of millions of people recognize and respect. Think Time, People, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated. But Time also knows that things change and that the new stars aren’t just on movie screens, but on phone screens, too. That’s why they asked us to partner with them to create Instant.me.
Instant.me is a new video-first experience that showcases the new stars — like YouTube, Instagram, or Vine celebrities, human or guinea pig. These stars have fans that are used to user experiences like…well, YouTube, Instagram, or Vine. Really fast, really fluid — bright and loud, and smart and fast. This product needed to be that good. We needed to build something that everything a modern web app is supposed to be…and more. (No, really. More. I’ll explain.)
A truly modern content-focused web app is fast, looks great on basically any device, managed bandwidth carefully, and requires as little interaction as possible. These are bite-sized stories that are meant to be enjoyed in a hurry. So we delivered the hell out of that, working under the creative direction of Time Inc.’s team. On the server side it’s basically infinitely scalable — no matter how many millions of people want to use it.
The “more” was twofold: A custom video-display solution that worked around a limitation in iOS that made it impossible to play video inline (you know how videos pop out of the browser and play? We wanted to not do that). iOS was obviously how much of our audience was going to view Instant.me, so we needed to find a workaround.
It took some long nights to get it right, but we did — we used our own take on a technique shown here — the upshot is that it took us treating any video as a set of separate components (video, audio) and watching user behavior so that when people tap the little volume indicator, the audio starts playing at the right time. It’s a lot of spinning plates but it works great; check out instant.me on an iPhone to see it in action.
The second differentiating factor was a custom CMS that created a dynamic editorial workflow entirely suited to the small, agile editorial team that builds this new content every day. It’s a small, straightforward, easy-to-maintain piece of code that runs night and day.
Time Inc. set the editorial guidelines and the visual direction and we built the system. The work was done on Postlight’s side by Zachary Golba, Darrell Hanley, Jeremy Mack, Kevin Barrett, Aaron Ortbals, and Neil Renicker. The result was a bold product, launched earlier this summer after a few months of hard work, with a simple-to-use CMS that supports a totally new editorial experience — and with a great new launch sponsor.
This is the kind of work we love and we felt lucky to do it. Risky, design-first, focused on building new kinds of distribution for new kinds of audiences. It pushed us as product developers to rethink both the reader experience and the editor experience. And it needed to get done quickly. That’s where Postlight shines, and we’re grateful that Time Inc. saw to bring us on where we could do the kind of work we love.
Want to make something that works everywhere, is very fast, works with your existing business model, and that users (especially mobile users) and sponsors love? Get in touch in total confidence. The bigger the problem the better. We like listening. We’d love to talk to designers, engineers, and product managers too.