Yesterday I addressed a new cohort of Medill graduate students, discussing the future of interactive storytelling, the importance of Human/Reader-Centered Design and the need for collaboration between Journalists and Technologists. During the talk I got two particularly interesting questions:
- Long-form, magazine stories are not easy to read on mobile devices. What is the future of long-form if — as I suggested — journalism’s future is not the Web but new devices? *
I answered by saying that journalists need to be more sophisticated about serving the right kind of content to the right audience depending on the device the audience is using. On a smartphone audio is always an option. Doing more to reformat the text or break it up would make it more device friendly. And new platforms like e-book readers and tablets may be better options for long-form stories. The key is not to pretend that televisions are radios, that smart phones are magazines or that tablets are laptops. Let each device have the type and format of content most suited to it.
- Another student asked if I was concerned that proprietary OSes (for the iPhone, Kindle & Palm Pre) and formats (he meant Flash) would limit the potential of content distribution? *
The proprietary OS issue worries me less — it reminded me of the late 80s when software development was very platform specific. The marketplace forced developers to make the software cross platform and created common user experience regardless of where the software lived. Besides most users are really using an App or a Web browser to get data from the Internet so the content itself is still not locked down.
But what about Flash and Apples iPhone/iPad? Sadly I wasn’t prepared to quote Jeffrey Zeldman: “Flash wonâ€™t die tomorrow, but plug-in technology is on its way out” or John Gruber: “Web site producers tend to be practical. Those that use Flash do so not because theyâ€™re Flash proponents, but because Flash is easy and ubiquitous… Flash is no longer ubiquitous. Thereâ€™s a big difference between â€œeverywhereâ€ and â€œalmost everywhere.”
The issues with Flash will solve themselves — either mobile devices will find a to run Flash or designers will present their content without it. Technology issues on new platforms are real, but pay walls and and exclusive content deals are a more insidious threat because consumers, just like developers, can decide they can live without journalism if its not accessible.
* Questions are paraphrased to shorten and add context as needed.