Beyond Information Delivery


Newspaper delivery guy, Jakarta 2007

Over at Loose Wire sister site ten minutes I just wrote a review of ShifD, a new Web 2.0 clippings service that works, in theory, between desktop and mobile. More interesting, I reckoned (quoting myself; sorry), is that

it’s developed by two guys from within The New York Times’ R&D Lab, so you can’t help wondering where something like this might fit into the world of newspapers.

I’d love to see, for example, a five-digit code at the end of each news story in my newspaper/magazine that I could key into my phone and which would then store a copy of that story on my desktop. Would save me carrying a  magic marker around and then forgetting to clip it when I got home. Forget reading the NYT on my handheld: That ain’t going to happen to an old fogey like me; but I’d love a way to store what I liked somewhere useful so that I wouldn’t forget it.

Maybe this is how newspapers need to think of themselves. The medium is not really the problem: I want my newspaper in traditional form, because it’s tried and tested and works for me. But it doesn’t me I don’t want it in other forms too: For when I’m crushed on a subway, where flipping back the pages of the IHT might not be welcomed by my fellow sardines, or when I’m stuck without reading matter waiting for a friend (hi, Mark!)

And of course other people have their requirements too. The medium is going to always be different, depending on the individual. So it’s the content that is the constant, the one element you want to ensure your readers/users are able to access whenever and wherever they want.

And that doesn’t mean just reading it once. Nowadays, as information bombards us, we are more selective about what we read. Two points here: We get a lot of stuff thrown at us, so our ability to recall stuff is weaker. And, because our time is precious, when we do allocate it to something, we don’t want to feel that time is wasted or lost.

Ergo, the value comes in being able to help us users store information we’ve already decided to commit some of our scarce resources to so we can maximise our benefit from it. Whatever article or piece of information it is, chances are that if we bothered to read it, or read most of it, we’ll hope that we retain some of it for future usage.

That, I reckon is where something like ShifD comes into its own. But not if it’s a standalone service. Then it will merely fight with all other services out there that offer something similar. Its power will come if it can be harnessed with NYT so that however, whenever and wherever I dedicate some of my time to reading that august rag, I can be sure of a simple way, via my phone or desktop, of storing anything I read that I consider to be valuable and worth keeping.

In this sense, if you want to get all grand about it, the future of media lies not so much in the format and medium of delivery to the consumer but in the format and delivery of retention by the consumer. I as a consumer want the media provider to provide a way for me to maximise my utility from reading it, by recognising that reading something is not the end of the relationship with that article.

For me, the consumer, it’s the beginning: I’m hoping the piece will change my life sufficiently, from advice on buying new shoes to understanding the threat to my future from a Second Cold War. That, I suspect, is the challenge of today’s media.

3 thoughts on “Beyond Information Delivery”

  1. One of the stumbling blocks of your model of “retention by the consumer” is that all too often, retaining content by URL is hit-or-miss. Articles or content get archived, or removed altogether. I have taken to displaying a page in print-friendly mode, selecting all, and then pasting into a word processor file. That way at least I know it will be there, seachable by Google Desktop.

  2. Kenneth, thanks for this and good point.

    This is something I think that media companies need to get a grip on.

    In those cases I usually print the webpage to a PDF file — I believe there are quite a few free utilities that do this. Google Desktop will still search it, but it saves you a step or two.

  3. I’ll have to take a look at ShifD, thanks for the pointer.

    This also reminded me of something that I wrote nearly two years ago, as the NY Times’ R&D group was just getting started:

    The NYT seems to have made the leap to thinking about what they can do if they consider themselves as a company that uses technology (including printing presses, of course) to accumulate and distribute information, rather than as a newspaper that needs to have a Web site on Teh Internet.

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