When I first downloaded and played with Questia, I thought, “I don’t get it.” I understood that it offered access to loads of academic humanities texts, and had a free public domain section, but what was the value in it? You could hit up your university library if you needed to do research, and public domain books are available in loads of places. Then I had the chance to talk with Tim Harris, CEO of Questia, and that’s where I learned the true value of this application.
“We are a research library, for people who want to access as much trusted material as possible in their area.”
Questia’s value proposition is that they allow the user to skim and access 76,000 titles; with searches by keyword, title, and author, you can zero directly in on key areas of research without having to read the whole volume. In addition, Questia is not just an iPhone application. It’s actually the mobile extension of a long-standing website designed to aid in academic research. The same information available on the website is available through the iPhone portal, with seamless syncing between the two. Start researching on your iPhone/iPod Touch, jump to the website on your laptop, and back to the iPhone, everything you read will be saved and available for you.
“The research process is becoming more and more mobile. 25% of our users are looking to be more mobile with the research process….The move to digital makes the research process more effective, makes the search more efficient and effective. If that process is mobile, Questia is going to be on the platform that captures the larger segment of the market.”
Tim also shared his company’s views on the mobile markets. He explained that Questia started with the iPhone platform, and saw incredible download volume. As a result, they are considering expanding to new platforms in the future, but for right now they are quite pleased with the adoption of the iPhone application. The feedback they are seeing is that users love being able to browse on their iPhone, then pick up the content on the web. Unlike with traditional eBooks, where the idea is to read from start to finish, Questia has always been about drilling down to specific information; this makes it an ideal mobile tool. While you probably wouldn’t want to read an entire research report on your phone, a chapter or even specific page is easy. The mobile app has full access that the Questia site does, including digital content not available anywhere else.
After speaking to Tim, I had a much better idea of Questia’s intentions; but does the app meet those expectations?
Mostly, yes it does. The navigation is easy to use, and the searches move quickly, even on EDGE. I searched for “Plato’s Republic”, and found several selections, both versions of the work itself and academic works that referenced it. When I went back to the main page, I could see my viewing history and return to anything I’d seen.
A few minor things bothered me about the app, mostly in design. To “read” a page required scrolling up and down, as the content was not fitted to the iPhone screen. Meanwhile, flipping to the next page required tapping the right or left side of the screen. While it is less Questia’s fault and more the lack of a unified standard for eReading on the iPhone, it does get confusing. In addition, I found that repeated page flipping was a bit on the slow side. Again, Questia is designed for quick research, so it’s unlikely a user would be really slowed down by the interface niggles, but they did stick out in an otherwise smooth package.
Questia has a multi-tiered pricing strategy: $9.99 buys you two weeks worth of access, $44.99 for 3 months of access, and $99.99 for one year of access. The iPhone app itself costs $.99, and comes with one week of free access; after the week is up, you still have access to 5,000 public domain books, and you can purchase more access as needed. This application would be invaluable for someone doing research on the go (college students, authors, etc) and certainly brings the traditional, stuffy library into the mobile world.
Visit Questia online here
What I Like: Huge library of content available; Smooth sync with web version; Fast search connections
What Needs Improvement: Slow page turns; Confusing page navigation