Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Joshua Topolsky and Friends Launch the Outline

Joshua Topolsky:

Welcome to The Outline, a new kind of publication for a new kind of human. We made this thing because we believe that the right story told in the right way can change someone’s life.

I have no idea what this means.

We wanted to make something from the ground up that is capable of rejecting and/or subverting conventional wisdom about what a media company does. That means at every level of what we’ve built we’re trying to create what is right for us and what is right for you, not what the industry is demanding.

We built a brand new platform for our team so that we can tell stories in the form that seems most appropriate for that story. Obviously we made this for a mobile-everything world (because we’re not insane), but it actually scales to lots of devices in lots of ways.

This new platform isn’t a complete rethink of the web. There’s a <marquee>-esque element across the homepage, and some stories are sometimes placed into a slider, which the Outline calls a “stack”. Like many new web-based publications, the developers behind the Outline have re-built standard browser features, like HTML rendering and scrolling. As a result, the pages are big — really big — and the back button is broken for some reason.

What makes the Outline a little different from most of its peers is its business model. Mike Shields of the Wall Street Journal explains (behind a paywall again, naturally):

There will be no standard ad placements on The Outline, and no programmatic selling, said Amanda Hale, chief revenue officer. Like its editorial, The Outline’s ads are designed to be full-screen, highly visual placements that are not unlike classic magazine ads on a phone.

Direct sales aren’t anything new or innovative, even on the web. But combining these ads with a policy that makes programmatic advertising verboten is deeply interesting to me. It ought to reduce the number of trackers that are on the Outline,1 and completely eradicate the chance for “malvertising”. It’s not a complete boon for privacy — their policy permits additional third-party trackers as advertisers request them — but it’s progress.

All of this is wrapped in Topolskified design elements: brash colours, ’70s and ’80s throwbacks, and a lot of animation. It’s not necessarily beautiful, but it is a statement. Whether this package will work is anyone’s guess, but the killer team behind it is probably enough to get me to check it out daily.


  1. Four, by my count: Google Analytics, Parse.ly, Facebook remarketing, and Amplitude. ↩︎