Many people seem to have fallen victim to what I want to call TES (Tech Expectation Syndrome). They get lost in the ocean swells between over-hyped pre-exploitation excitement, and gradual market development under a different guise is a different context. Looking back through my file of words that seem to have disappointed at the top of the typical Gartner expectation spike and are now safely on the plateau of exploitation, I find things like VADs and VANs (now our digital networks), GIS (now a part of every activity known to man since geolocation became the bedrock of mobile telephony), AI (now becoming the M2M nexus of the working world, and so terrifying that even Stephen Hawking cannot exorcise it) …and, of course, VR, the wonderfully exciting 3D environment that we fell in love with, and then decided that headsets were not for us, and that this would only work for dedicated gamers.
And if forgetfulness about how much unexploited technology is available to our new product and service development cycles is one of our sins in the publishing and media marketplaces, let me add another while the Sunday afternoon mood of self-flagellation is upon me. After sustained efforts of re-invention, we keep falling back on PSP (product simulation psychosis). We put extra stuff, more video, longer text, archival support and other elements into the digital “version” and then promote it and sell it just as if it were analogous to the print “version”. We know these things are growing apart but we seem reluctant to acknowledge the difference. No where has this been more marked than in the newspaper industry, which strictly speaking we should now stop calling the newspaper industry. If we called it “news media” we might get closer to seeing how differentiation is taking place, and mark the points at which the digital service elements are going out on a track that print can never follow, and creating information in formats which will become the hallmark of communication. They are the defining moments in the separation of print and digital, and we should point to them whenever some senior executive says (so many do, I am afraid) “There will always be a market for print” or “digital is neat but what are its real advantages for which I would pay extra”.
They still say these things and there have been moments when I have thought the entire news industry would go the way of Yellow Pages, despite Vox, Buzzfeed, Fast Company (and that stubbornly non-innovative digital analogue of print, the Huffington Post). And then last week I saw surprizing green shoots of change, and not from the new digital news industry, but from those good souls who have huffed and puffed up and down the the peaks of inflated expectations a time or two, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The latter have been celebrating Nasdaq’s birthday in fine style. They have taken my pathetic wave metaphors in a different context into a graphers delight, a 3D journey around the index from its inception (http://graphics.wsj.com/3d-nasdaq/). Use it on your mobile, walk round the room with it, or (get this!) get the WSJ headset and really appreciate it. This is not just a beautiful birthday card – you are looking at the way graphical information will be read, or, rather experienced, as the years go on. Here we move away from anything which can be “printed”, and once this style of activity does become the way in which we experience and record change, then only the network can deliver it.
But I would have to reserve special praise for what the New York Times did last week on an architectural review of the new Whitney Museum building (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/19/arts/artsspecial/new-whitney-museum.html). This is a delight to the eye. Once you have seen this you will never want to read a review of a new building which does not include this type of 3D analytical effect. It enhances every readers’ appreciation of the points Michael Kimmelman is making, yet this is VR lite, needing no headset and simply deploying great VR graphics to display the planes and vistas of a new building in a moving dynamic. And until they start moving you think you are just encountering another illustration in text. This answers the question – what would you pay extra for – because it adds a new dimension to understanding which could only have come from this environment.
We have noted here before the way in which old businesses can survive, despite and sometimes because, they are family businesses with a history of transition. A few months ago the Holtzbrinck family cashed their “get out of newspaper jail” card with Springer; both DMGT and Hearst have made huge strides in diminishing the effects of blighted newspaper advertising cycles by becoming experts in B2B data businesses, to the point where these assets begin to dominate all others. But if the Sulzburgers and the Murdochs are to escape then it will probably have to be re-invention that does it, and until last week there seemed to be few signs that this was likely to happen. But here, rather than playing games with the paywall business model, or buying related digital businesses that are not well understood corporately, both of these traditional market players showed early signs of trying to understand how technology could be deployed to add new value for the user. These are late conversions on the road to digital Damascus, but perhaps even more welcome as a result.keep looking »