Monday, September 21, 2009

Is the revolution over?

I've written a few times this summer about my growing sense of Web 2.0 ennui -- this feeling I have that as B2B publishing bounces back from the recession, things just aren't as interesting as they were a year or so ago.
And I'm beginning to get a sense of why:
The revolution is ending.

For a decade or so now the world of journalism has been one of ceaseless change and challenge. Consider, if you will, just some of the major technologies and practices we've adopted: external links, blogging platforms, mobile delivery, slideshows, podcasting, database reporting, RSS, email newsletters, Webcasts, Twitter, Facebook, search-engine optimization, etc.
Think, too, of the cultural changes we've made in our working lives as journalists: comments on articles, Creative Commons licenses, open-source software systems, user-generated content, revenue-sharing compensation plans, aggregated content, standalone journalists, etc.
It's been a madcap series of never-ending developments. It's been glorious and exciting.
But I think it may be over.

Be honest. What was the last new development in journalism/publishing that you were truly excited about?
Twitter? Sure. It's wonderful. But it's hardly new. It launched in 2006! And it caught fire in 2007.
The iPhone? Yea. I love mine too. But it's already more than two years old.

I got an email the other day from an editorial director for a mid-sized B2B company. He told me that he'd recently discovered that his team was beginning to forget some of the basic skills of online journalism they'd been taught in the past few years.
But that wasn't such awful news, he suggested.
He'd found that the pace of new developments had slowed to such a degree that he had more time to focus on reviewing the basics.

Old Revolutionaries
In the past few weeks, two of the companies that helped revolutionize our world launched media products that simply bored me to tears.
Google debuted its Fast Flip -- a scrollable version of magazines that looks no different than the half-dozen or so products in the digital-magazine world.
Microsoft took a stab at saving the newspaper industry with a new aggregation tool. But the only interesting thing about it was the confusion over whether Microsoft lifted the idea from TweetDeck or from Sobees.
And if there is one thing that is certain about these "new" products, it is this: we won't have to spend any time teaching folks in the newsroom how to use them. They just aren't significant.

If the revolution is over, we shouldn't be surprised.
There's probably no such thing as ongoing change. Things advance at an extraordinary pace ... and then they reach a sort of stasis. We go from massive change to incremental change. We go from revolution to improvement.

This may be the very nature of human technological advancement.
We lived with propeller planes for decades. Then we developed jet engines and the world was suddenly new.
Then it wasn't.
The jets grew bigger and faster. But they were still jets.
Consider this: I am 50-years old, a child of what was once called "the Jet Age." But there's clearly nothing revolutionary left in airplane travel. The Jet Age just drags on and on and on ... seemingly stripped of its ability to inspire.

If I'm right and the media revolution has ended, I'll say now that I was thrilled to be a part of it.
And in the post-revolutionary period -- we could call it "the Web Age," if you like -- I'll continue doing what I do, practicing this profession to the best of my ability.
But I will look sadly at the newcomers to our industry -- just as I look sadly at the thousands of impatient folks I see each week at the airport -- and I will think the same thing:
Can't you see how cool this is?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A little bit about writing very little

I've been so busy lately that this blog has gone without an update for weeks at a time.
I apologize to anyone who is still taking the time to check this site or their RSS reader for something new from me.
Today is no different. I'm swamped...working far from home at a client's office, living in a hotel and missing my family.
But earlier today someone asked my thoughts for an article about creating content for mobile devices. I responded via email. And it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to do two things.

1. Suggest that people check out the most interesting new site in the media world -- eMedia Vitals. You can start by reading the article in which I'm quoted. (Disclosure: Whenever I read eMedia Vitals it feels like some sort of spin-off from "The Paul Conley Show." Nearly everyone at the company is someone that has worked for me or with me at some point in my career. The rest are people I've either written about and/or tried to recruit for clients. So I'm probably a little prejudiced. But I think this is a strong staff. And the site is extraordinarily good -- offering the sort of actionable material that is missing in other brands that cover the media world.)

2. By copying and pasting that aforementioned email into Blogger, I may actually be able to reduce some of the guilt I feel about not updating this blog ... but without actually taking the time to do a real update (eMedia Vitals only published a tiny portion of what I wrote, anyway. And I hate to see it go to waste.)

And so, without further ado, here are some thoughts on publishing content to mobile devices:

Whenever you're creating content for mobile, it pays to remember two distinct and remarkable things about that platform versus any other.

First, your mobile device knows who you are and where you are.
Mobile devices offer the first opportunity in history to create content that is aimed at individual users. With mobile, you're not publishing restaurant reviews for your community -- you're giving the guy at the corner of Main and State three options for health food within a six-block radius. You're not giving the executive at the airport an interface where he can check his flight, you're sending him a text message when the airline changes his gate.
Some of the smartest applications involve the use of 2D barcodes. In parts of Asia, people are using those things to track bus schedules, download videos, etc. Users see something they want on a billboard or in a print publication, and they snap a photo of it with their mobile device. Think about the power of that. I'm not selling an ad for a soft drink to reach a million people. I'm showing an ad to a guy who has expressed an interest in my soft drink, has 12 minutes to kill until his bus arrives and happens to be standing outside a particular store.

Second, mobile devices are sort of crappy ways to consume information.
They're convenient. We need them to function in the modern world . But they are an inferior method of consuming almost any type of content (the one exception is audio.).
The text is too small -- especially for older people. The video screens are too small -- for everyone. You can't multitask with them (I can watch TV and cook. I can't look at my iPhone and do that.)
Content creators need to accept this about mobile: as convenient as the devices are to carry, they are an inconvenient way to consume information.
So don't waste anyone's time.
Keep your copy short -- about the length of an email.
Don't make it harder than it has to be -- give me text-only RSS feeds that I can read or take the time to build an application for my iPhone. Don't ask me to look at your Web site on a device that fits in my pocket. Even the best mobile browser can't turn your Web site into anything I want to read on a phone.
If you can tell me what I need to know in less than 200 words, do so. If not, try harder.
On the other hand, if I'm sitting around staring at my mobile device it's probably because I don't have anything better to do at the moment. I'm stuck at the train station or sitting at the coffee shop or waiting for an elevator. In moments like that, I want to see something I "need" -- crucial, timely information. Or maybe I just want to see something that's funny.
Either way, you have about 2 seconds to catch my attention before I look at something else. So try to be witty or beautiful, albeit brief. And if you can't do that, just be brief.