Over the last five years, we have seen an explosion in the mobile phone and tablet markets. In a recent statistic, over 25 million iPads have been sold with over 60,000 apps available for the device. Recently, Time Inc. announced that it will be making all of its titles on tablets. Content publishers are all looking for ways to capitalize on this emerging market. To grasp these changes, it is helpful to understand the previous trends that have occurred throughout the information age.
A lot has happened over the last twenty years. We have seen the adoption of the internet, the growth of Google, the popularity of social-networks like Facebook, and the recent launch of the tablet market. Content in the Information Age has come a long way.
I believe the innovations in the information age can be broken up into three main eras: Networking, Search, and Applications. Each of these eras have contributed important innovations to content technologies today.
Caption 1: Example of the New York Times website from 1997 (Archive.org)
In the early to mid 90s, technology and content innovations were focused primarily on the Internet. Through dial-up modems and later broadband connections, people all around the world were connecting in ways previously unthinkable. Web browsers like Netscape and Internet Explorer pioneered content exchange through HTML. Businesses, individuals, researchers, and publishers began posting their content on the internet to share their content using this new and instantaneous technology. Newspapers like the New York Times started out with an online presence to promote their print editions. Content technologies during this era were geared towards getting content on the web and accessible via web browsers.
Caption 2: Google receives more than 700 million requests per day.
As the internet began to populate with millions of webpages, it became harder for users to find content. Search engines were developed to help users filter through pages to find their desired content. Development of search engines soon became the key focus of technology and content innovation. Despite its current dominance, Google was not the first search engine, as it was preceded by popular search engines like AltaVista and Yahoo!, both founded in 1995. Google, founded in 1998, was able to surpass all other search engines using a proprietary indexing algorithm and profitable non-obtrusive advertising platform. To optimize searchability, schemas and specifications were developed to standardize the organization of content. Technologies like XML allowed different services to share data through standardized schemas.
We are currently in application era of content innovation. Simply posting and finding content is no longer enough, as content relationships and meaning have grown in importance. Take for example Facebook. Facebook contains a wealth of personal information, who our friends are, what our interests are etc. Facebook uses this information to connect the dots and serve up targeted ads. Facebook even has facial recognition technology to associate faces in their large collections of images to its users.
Other media applications have also utilized content and data to provide meaningful applications. Applications like Apple iPhoto and Google Picasa allow users to graph their images onto a Google Map based on the embedded GPS information. The focus is no longer on just the information or finding the information; the focus is on the meaning of information.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide-web, sees these interconnections as the Semantic Web. In a podcast with Talis.com in 2008, Berners-Lee said:
"A given application can use different data. An application can run on a desktop or in my browser, it’s my agent. It can access all the data, which I can use and everything’s much more seamless and much more powerful because you get this integration. The same application has access to data from all over the place."
Mobile devices like the iPhone and Android have software development kits (SDKs) to allow developers to access a variety of sources of information collected by the device to make applications more meaningful. Whether it be the geo-location services, accelerometers detecting the angle of the device, or connections to services like Twitter, Facebook, or Google, these device applications put the focus on how information is used. Because mobile devices are designed as single user devices, content can be personalized to make it more meaningful to users.
Caption 3: Flipboard produces a personalized "social magazine" based on your social networks.
So what does this mean for content management? For publishers? What it means is it is not enough to have content simply posted on the internet anymore or accessible through a search engine. We created schemas and technologies to standardize content to make it accessible. The question now is how to connect data to make it more valuable? Flipboard, an iPad application, creates your own personalized "social magazine" based on your Twitter and Facebook feeds. Interactive children's books like Alice in Wonderland take interactive books to the next level. Push Pop Press's Al Gore's Our Choice book combines the interactivity of the iPad with the explanation of environmental issues. We are seeing people interact with content like never before.
Our next generation of publishing technologies need to take advantage of these new innovations. Tablets afford publishers functionality before never conceived in publications. These new platforms could be a paradigm shift from any of the conventions we have been familiar with from print. This is an exciting time to be in publishing technology.