Welcome to The Letters Page

Welcome to The Letters Page

December 15, 2012

Greetings and welcome to the newest addition to the Fresh Comics empire: The Letters Page. I loosely intend to use this to share the latest news and information with the community, so consider this the official Fresh Comics weblog.

To kick this off, I wanted to share where Fresh Comics is today and where it's headed in the near future. For those of you just joining us, Fresh Comics is a mobile application available on a variety of mobile platforms: Android, iOS (iPhone), and Windows Phone. It also includes screensavers for Mac and Windows desktops as well as a widget for the (now obsolete) Chumby. Since the relaunch of the website this summer, I've been working hard to expand the Fresh Comics web presence and that's resulted in some interesting mapping experiments and I'm just getting my feet wet providing white-label services to comic retailers and news sites by syndicating the weekly release information I compile each weekend. I have a lot of momentum behind Fresh Comics and things are moving along nicely.

Moving forward, I have several "projects" that I want to tackle. The first major project is to make Fresh Comics a proper cloud-based application. At the present, Fresh Comics allows you to tag your favorite series and creators, but this information stays on your phone, and there's no syncing or online sharing to speak of. In the next several months, I plan to begin offering Fresh Comics accounts that will allow you to set up an online list of your favorite comics and share those lists via channels that make sense like Facebook and Twitter.

On a similar note, I'm also looking forward to extending the release window visible on Fresh Comics at any given moment. Currently, Fresh Comics allows you to view and search issues from last week, this week, and next week. When I overhauled the website this summer, I put together a nice framework for storing an arbitrary number of comic records. This functionality serves as the backbone of the Fresh Comics website, and I'm investigating the best ways to make the full content of the site available on mobile devices without sacrificing offline availability and related features.

The second major project that I want to tackle is creating a great tablet interface for Fresh Comics. The software is available as a handheld app for phone form-factors, but despite the stack of tablets sitting next to me (iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook Color), I haven't made a lot of progress optimizing for those sizes. Two major issues are responsible for the delay. The first issue was technical: cover images optimized for handheld devices look terrible on higher-resolution tablets. Last month, I addressed this in the Fresh Comics backend, and my only remaining image issue is guaranteeing that I have sufficiently large images for the latest generation of "retina"-class displays.

The second (and remaining) issue standing in the way of tablet work is the design approach for the tablet application. On smaller devices, I try to adapt to the local conventions and schemas of the local platform. The iOS app is different in look and behavior from the Android application due to the local platform UI conventions and available frameworks. Given the limited amount of space and shorter attention spans available in a handheld context, local conventions ("chrome") take a larger role with respect to content considerations.

In a tablet context, I'm debating whether the "chrome" to content ratio should be the same as on the phones. Given the larger amount of screen real estate available on tablets, I've been thinking of implementing a more unified look-and-feel that is consistent across the major tablet platforms. Since I implemented the Windows Phone version of Fresh Comics, I've fallen in love with Microsoft's Metro Modern UI design philosophy and I think it can work well on iPad and Android tablets. This internal debate is ongoing, but I hope to resolve it before the end of the month and start cranking out the first Fresh Comics tablet apps.

My third major project is finding ways to get Fresh Comics data out more effectively into the comic book community. When this project started, I was focused on the app side of things, but as it's matured, it's become clear to me that the value being provided is the work I put into cataloging the upcoming releases, compiling a reliable database of local comic retailers, and building the events calendar. The apps are now just one of many channels for me to share that information with other comic enthusiasts. In 2013, I'm looking forward to creating and exploring opportunities with other folks in the comic book space to build an ecosystem that would make Tony Stark proud. I already have some private beta efforts underway, but I'm always looking for new folks interested in using Fresh Comics data in their endeavors.

(If you're a comic shop or news site interested in using this data to improve your online offerings, please send an e-mail to chris@freshcomics.us and we can get a conversation started.)

I'm genuinely excited with the directions things are going and looking forward to sharing more with you in this space.

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