The web escapes the computer screen: what the E-reader will do for unpublished information on the web

The next information wave - Photo by mikebaird from Flickr licensed under Creative Commons

The next information wave

It’s easy to hate the most over-used phrases used to describe the web age – paradigm shift, knowledge revolution, Web 2.0 etc.  

But hey we’ve all faced the tyranny of an empty page – it’s tough out there. And faced with amazing changes to how we locate information represented by Google and the other search engines it’s easy to reach for the bottle of superlatives.  

Even the growth of email has meant a phenomenal change to the way we consume and create information in the last 15 years as documents and comments flow back and forth in minutes that used to take faxes, printers, and letters hours or days.  

Despite all these examples of card-carrying “gee whiz”  moments however it looks like we are just about to be swept up in another wave.  

We are just starting to consume knowledge in another way which may result in an equally dramatic lifestyle change when compared to the growth of search engines, or the early days of the web itself.  

Amazon's Kindle Reading Device - the A4 size DXThe on-rushing wave is the e-book (or more properly the ‘E-Reader’), with an estimated 10 million being sold by the end of this year just in the US alone and dozens of different E-Readers in the works from different companies emerging in the next 12 months – with a combined marketing budget in the hundreds of millions that will make the recent Apple iPad launch look like a hiccup.  

On the surface of it is this just another example of hyperbolic silliness? Because isn’t the E-Reader just another way to consume books that we’re already reading in hardcopy anyway, and as many have pointed out there are a lot of advantages of traditional hardcopy over the electronic alternative?Illegible computer screen text - photo by Naufragio on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons  

What is interesting about E-Readers is not the ‘E-book’ part at all. Instead E-Readers are going to very rapidly reshape how we consume information on the web. This is not about a ‘new device’ it’s about a new way to consume information, because as is somewhat obvious most of the information on the web is just not available in hardcopy form at all. And that really matters.  

Backlit screen reading is hard to do (sorry Apple I know you’re trying with the iPad). It’s hard on your eyes,  it’s not very portable (try reading a laptop with your feet up), and in this information-packed age unless you’re looking at a huge screen it is hard to skim read and quickly identify the key points in screen-based information.  

This has lead to an emphasis on other aspects of screen-based information that compensate for these drawbacks of the web on a computer screen by adding new functionality: dense hypertext links to make cross referencing easy, the ability to comment and interact with authors as represented by blogs, the ability to locate and reassemble information in many different ways as represented by search engines, and in most journalism courses a recognition that writing for the web requires a specific style (admonitions to not write more than two sentence paras etc).  

The RSS button - freedom from the screen? Photo by HiMY SYeD / photopia on Flickr licensed under Creative CommonsBut the E-Reader is changing that (read “Customized newspapers on e-books: Calibre cross-platform e-book subscription management” to see how you can subscribe to websites out there on the web on your E-Reader, via their RSS feeds,  just like you can subscribe to a podcast on iTunes).  

What happens when everything from the web is as portable and easy to read as paper?  

It’s not JUST the E-Reader: the way this is going to turn our information-consuming lives upside down is driven by a groundswell of the growth of machine-readable info feeds on sites represented by Really Simple Syndication, and emerging platforms like Calibre which enable you ‘subscribe’ to any website on any E-Reader – for FREE.  

The E-book just happens to be the final crest of the wave which is about to sweep away already undermined sections of the publishing industry.  

Still not convinced?  

The only thing worse than a ‘paradigm’ shift is an attempt to predict the future so here goes with a few near-term predictions:  

  1. the world of journalism is about to get vastly more competitive – journalists in a newspaper will be competing with bloggers with more specialist knowledge who previously had limited circulation because you couldn’t purchase your average blog conveniently on a newstand or read it on the way to work on the train. The blogger is providing the information for free.
  2. How do you find the best? Photo by Diabolic Preacher on Flickr - licensed under Creative Commonsintermediaries that seek out big stories will get more important in their own verticals (wherever those stories are) whether they are using algorithms like Google or whether they are using human curated approaches like ‘The Week’, or social media mechanisms like Stumbleupon or Digg. Try and find for example, amongst the 100m+ or so out there which are the most entertaining blogs? To some extent this question was irrelevant  if those blogs didn’t get read – but not any more.
  3. new ways of consuming stories will arise – for instance ‘collaborative reading’. On my Kindle or Sony Reader or iPad or whatever why should I not be able to view annotations on a text by my colleagues, or classmates, or friends?
  4. we’re not talking individual wikis – we’re talking wiki world – why buy a ‘How To’ manual for  your motorcycle when there is a completely portable version?
  5. traditional publishers who are congratulating themselves on being web savvy like the New York Times or Guardian are going to come under even more pressure because E-Readers in many cases will have the effect of destroying ad revenue and their ability to really track readership. With the aid of software on an E-Reader like Calibre this is the equivalent of Tivo for the publishing world: in your Kindle DX via Calibre no javascript is active (so Google Analytics aint going to know you’ve read the story) all it knows is that someone downloaded their RSS feed (not which particular stories were read).  And fancy ads are not going to come across because people writing recipes to extract your content with Calibre simply don’t want them.  Even if you instituted counter-measures by embedding an ad image joined with a story image, it’s almost the equivalent of going back to the flat ad serving done in newspapers. Free at a blog near you - photo from Flickr by Rainbow Project licensed under Creative Commons
  6. even the acknowledged guru of the web commerce world, Amazon, may be shooting themselves in the foot. They want you to buy e-books from them – but why? If you can read any old PDF or niche website out there on the web from the comfort of the couch? Or a million free book titles? I bought an Amazon Kindle DX and have yet to buy a book on it (but thanks Amazon anyway for paying the wireless subscription charges).
  7. if it isn’t already obvious the E-reader is going to reduce further the cost of information globally even more: expect to add value with your startup company by better locating information, or better curation, but expect an uphill road if you think it’s about unique content (Mr Murdoch take note).
  8. a bit like podcasting has broken the barriers to entry for local radio talk shows your decision is not ‘which paper do I buy in my home town’, instead it’s ‘which blogs do I want to read from the entire internet?’ Publications are becoming ‘unbundled’ and publishing deadlines paradoxically may actually become less important in an age of instant satisfaction. Why should I read some crap which some journalist stitched together at the last moment to make the Sun weekend edition when I can read a combination of bloggers who only produce pearls once a month? 

Like the sound of this new world or hate it?  

Is it not going to happen at all?  This is a blog – talk back.

This article filed under the following 'Interest' categories (click category for more) Kewl

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Article posted by @Drivelry on February 22, 2010

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