Michelle Manafy Content evolution and the need to stay flexible to survive
Jinfo Blog

Wednesday, 9th May 2012

By Michelle Manafy

Abstract

Surprise! People young and old still read print newspapers. Twenty percent of US Adults have read a newspaper in the past month and those 18 to 24 read them as often as other age groups.

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Surprise! People young and old still read print newspapers. Twenty percent of US Adults have read a newspaper in the past month and those 18 to 24 read them as often as other age groups. This news came as a surprise to me but when I looked at the Pew Research State of News Media 2012 report on which it was based, a clearer picture emerged.

The report starts off saying, "In 2011, the digital revolution entered a new era. The age of mobile, in which people are connected to the web wherever they are, arrived in earnest." Now that sounds right.

While it may be heartening to hear that generations of people still hold newsprint, print revenue and readership continue to decline across the board. The good news is that Pew finds that mobile may be leading to a deeper experience with news than on a desktop or laptop computer. Readers tend to turn to specific sources for news as well, rather than search engines.

After mobile, the second major trend Pew notes is that "in the last year a small number of technology giants began rapidly moving to consolidate their power by becoming makers of 'everything' in our digital lives." These include Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and a few others.

Yet a compelling Forbes article published the same week provides a convincing argument for "Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next 5 Years." What? How could these mainstays of our information universe possibly fall from grace? I know more than a few people who said that about newspapers, too.

The writer, Eric Jackson, elegantly describes the shift from Web 1.0, in which the best aggregators led the pack, to Web 2.0, in which the social and community mavens moved ahead. He also states that there will not be a Web 3.0 because mobile will kill the web.

Certainly, Jackson's assertions ring true when we consider the mammoth retrofit in culture, strategy and technology that print information providers faced as digital content rose to power. Let's face it, what the nimbler digital upstarts may have lacked in content prowess, they more than made up for in speed to market and meeting customer demand.

However when I look at both Jackson and Pew's examination of mobile and its impact, I have one niggling doubt. Pew lauds the fact that mobile has caused people to return to specific sources for news. The Forbes article bemoans Facebook's unwieldy (and unsuccessful) app attempts. Yet I can't help but wonder if app-ification is really the endgame for mobile.

In Web 1.0, we went to our trusted sources online at first. Unfortunately, many of them failed to move quickly to get content online, leaving room for the emergence of digitally-native alternatives. Then the search wars began and flipped information on its ear.

Since then, an interconnected expectation has emerged. Content consumers want information to be intertwined with related content and social experiences. They expect it to integrate with whatever they are doing and find them where they are when they need it. With the app, it feels like we've stepped back into the silo.

Will users be content to jump from one app to the next in search of what they need? Apps 1.0 may entice, but will they go beyond smartphones and tablets into workflow? Staying flexible is one of the toughest battles for content creators.

At FreePint, we were born digital, creating and delivering our content that way from the start. Yet even we have shifted our publishing process from one that emphasised the specific output that made sense to us, as a publisher (a PDF magazine, enewsletter, report, etc.), to an approach that focuses on what the customer wants, which is that article.

While we still publish digital magazines and reports and expect to for some time to come, we're also breaking down, reorganising and enabling the content to move around in more flexible ways. Now, readers can view individual articles across all of our sites and publications or only those that are subscription-based, as well as look for articles by categories of interest.

In his Forbes piece, Jackson makes it crystal clear that (lacking a crystal ball), there is almost no way to predict exactly where technology/the web/mobile is heading. We can be assured, however, that the pace of change will only continue to accelerate. So, while no one's survival is a sure thing, a good bet is remaining nimble, flexible and attuned to what users actually want information to do.

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