Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wow this looks cool - but hang on a minute...

The first time I saw this video from the folks at TIME Inc. on the possible future of their glossy magazines (in this case Sports Illustrated), I thought - Wow, they get it. Someone has at last seen the real potential of using digital content.

But the more I watched it, two things suddenly occurred to me.
  1. While the flashy interface may look cool, it is still very much a paper based paradigm with a page-based sensibility. - Now I accept that jumping straight from physical paper limitations to the theoretical infinite canvas of a digital world may not be acceptable for the consumer market, and this sort of screen bounded design maybe the best solution to manage that transition.
  2. The text is still being considered as a design feature and a lump of fixed content. There doesn't appear to be any mark-up used to make the text intelligent. Where are the hyper-links in the articles? Consider an SI article that on the mention of an athlete's or team's name lets you pull up a library of photos and past articles from the SI archive. Or links to apps that let you build your own performance statistics. How about a link to a virtual tour of a stadium? Or an audio clip of a classic piece of commentary.? Why not the ability to search the text, and order your results the way you want them?

While the surface results of this mock-up look amazing, underneath it is still bound in many ways by thinking of the publication as the product and not the delivery of intelligent content as a portal to adding value.

Times They Are A Changin' But Most Publishers Aren't

A few days ago I saw a job posting from the publishers of my first book, who were looking for an editor for one of their imprints. What caught my eye was that the posting emphasized that the new editor should have experience and skills in using the same software that had been used to produce my book. A book that was published in 1997 – thirteen years ago!
Technology has changed a lot in thirteen years and so has the way that content can be created, handled and made ready for publication. But this publisher is far from being alone in sticking with old processes. My experiences working on other book projects in the last few years have just reinforced my belief that the vast majority of the traditional publishing market still works around a production system designed to do one thing – move paper.

A process that, despite changes in tools, has changed little since the dawn of the printing press.

You can read the rest of my article on using XML in Publishing at THE CONTENT WRANGLER