Managing content in a mobile world
On Day 3, I decided to try the “Mobile content” track. The speakers were Alan Pelz Sharpe from The Real Story Group, Russell Reeder from Libre Digital and Dave Kellogg from MarkLogic.
Augmented reality is one of my pet topics, so I was pleased to hear the speakers confirm it is all about data and meaning. It is just one aspect of how consumers want more and more data and information presented to them without delay on smaller and simpler devices. However, this means a greater need for metadata and more work for usability specialists.
The whole way people interact with content is very different when they are on the move, so simply trying to re-render websites is not enough. Entire patterns of information needs and user behaviour have to be considered. “A mobile person is not the same as a mobile device…the person needs to be mobile, not necessary the content.” For example, mobile workers often prefer to contact a deskbound researcher and get answers sent to them, not do the research themselves while on the move.
It is not enough just to worry about the technological aspects, or even just the information architecture aspects of versions of content for mobile users. A different editorial style needs to be used for small screens, so content needs to be edited to a very granular level for mobile – no long words!
Users don’t care about formats, so may get a very bad impression of your service if you allow them to access the wrong content. One customer was cited as complaining that they could watch You Tube videos easily on their phone (You Tube transcodes uploads so they are low res and streamable), but another video caused huge problems and took ages (it turned out to be a download of an entire HD feature film).
The session made me feel quite nostalgic, as back in 1999 we spent much time pondering how we would adapt our content to mobile devices. Of course, then we were trying to present everything on tiny text-only screens – 140 characters was seen as a luxury. There is just no comparison with today’s multifunctional multicoloured shiny touch screen devices.
New World of Search – Closing Keynote
I think every conference should include a speaker who rises above day-to-day business concerns and looks at really big pictures. Stephen Arnold outlined the latest trends in search technologies, both open source and proprietary, and how people are now getting better at picking elements from different systems, perhaps combining open source with proprietary options and building modular, integrated systems to prevent lock-in. However, he also talked engagingly about digital identity, privacy, and the balance of power between individuals and large organisations in the digital world.
He reiterated the point that Google (and other search engines) are not free. “Free is not what it seems to the hopeful customer” but that we haven’t yet worked out the value of data and content – let alone information and knowledge – in the light of the digital revolution. Traditional business models do not work and old economic theories no longer apply: “19th century accounting rules don’t work in the 21st century knowledge economy”.
He noted that Facebook has managed to entice users and developers to give up their content, work, time, and intellectual property to a locked-in proprietary walled garden. People have done this willingly and apparently without prompting, enabling Facebook to achieve something that software and content vendors such as IBM and AOL have been trying unsuccessfully to do for decades.
There is no clear way of evaluating the service that Facebook provides against the value of the content that is supplied to it free by users. However, it is clear that it is of huge value in terms of marketing. It is possibly the biggest and most sophisticated marketing database ever built.
As well as content, people are willing to surrender personal information, apparently with minimal concerns for privacy and security. It is not clear what the implications of this are: “What is the true cost of getting people to give up their digital identities?” It is clear that the combined data held by Facebook, Google, Foursquare, mobile phone companies, credit card companies, travel card companies, etc. creates a hugely detailed “digital profile” of human lives. Stephen urged the audience to take seriously the potential for this to be used to cause harm to individuals or society – from cyberstalking to covert government surveillance – because technology is moving so fast that any negative social and political effects may already be irreversible.