Trends of smaller, easier, and more personal content signal a shift away from read-only publishing.
by Terry Jones - O'Reilly Radar
17 December 2010
Publication of information obviously includes traditional media, such as books, newspapers, magazines, music, and video. But we can generalize considerably to include blogs, tagging (e.g., Delicious, Flickr), commenting systems, Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace.
From a biological point of view, publishing can expand to encompass all of human social signaling -- both verbal and non-verbal -- and include the myriad little acts of information production and consumption we all engage in.
Even seen from this outer limit of generality, it's clear that digital is ushering in a rapid convergence in publishing. While some forms are born digital and online, others are being reinvented there as technological advance sets old media free. There is massive disruption -- both behind and ahead of us -- as the convergence continues.
Three convergence trends: smaller, easier, more personal
There are three convergence trends in publishing that are already apparent.
One clear long-term trend is that smaller pieces of information are being published. Considering just modern digital forms of publishing, there is a roughly chronological progression toward smaller publications: emails, Usenet postings, web pages, blog posts, blog comments, tweets, tags.
Traditional media are also being fractured into smaller pieces, particularly where the media packaging existed only to address physical quirks of the media or the act of publishing. To give one example: Popular music publishing centered on delivering albums. This was a by-product of physical equipment -- LPs, CDs, and their players -- which did not align particularly well with the more natural unit of popular musical output, the song. Given low-cost flexible alternatives, it's no wonder that these forms of content are now jumping the packaging ship and going directly digital in pieces that make more sense. This leaves traditional publishers scratching their heads and clinging to increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic packaging methodologies -- newspapers being another example -- with attendant declining advertising possibilities. Clay Shirky has written and spoken with insight and eloquence on these changes (see here and here).
A second trend is a reduction in friction. As access to easy-to-use and inexpensive publishing technology increases, it becomes economically feasible to publish smaller and less valuable pieces of content. We have reached the point where anyone with access to the Internet can easily and cheaply publish trivial, tiny pieces of information -- even single words.
The third trend is the rise of publishing personal information. Our inescapable sociability is driving us to shape the Internet into a mechanism for publishing information about ourselves.
These three trends -- smaller, easier, more personal -- provide a framework to examine the development of online information publishing.
The three trends and the future of books
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