I have a about 35-40 feeds that I follow daily. I was impressed with how Feedly stepped-up and made it easy to import all of my feeds from Google reader.
Since Google’s announcement last month about shutting down their Reader service, I had a brief moment of panic, followed by thoughts of what a potential pain in the ass it could be to setup my feeds all over again. As I started looking around for an alternative, I realized that the RSS reader space was alive and well in many other applications, some that I already knew of, some I hadn’t heard of before, I was relieved.
Having been a Google Reader user for almost as long as the service has been around, I had everything set up exactly how I liked it, including a quick way to re-tweet articles by automatically starring them.
Now that I’ve settled into using Feedly everyday, enjoying their ‘better-looking’ personalized magazine-style layout, I am reminded of how digital content has evolved.
Not to overstate the obvious but we seldom think about the daily buffet of content that we consume for free through these kinds of services. Its a fact that I often tried to bring to the surface with publishers when I was working on digital strategies for ten daily newspapers in Canada.
A strategic insight that could have perhaps shaped the way publishers market and distribute their content online but was sadly overlooked and dismissed under the ‘kill what you don’t understand’ category. With paywalls erected on news and magazine websites these days, the effort has hardly made a a ripple in the digital-reader pool.
I’m not talking about the ‘power-users’, I’m talking about Joe-average user who doesn’t even need to know what an RSS feed is in order to select and add content to applications such as Flipboard and Feedly.
Their behavioral patterns in how they collect content and why – is what I’m interested in. Newspapers don’t want to think about it because the emphasis is no longer on local sources, rather the emphasis is on what the user feels is good content to collect. Content that is personalized with everything the user wants and none of what they don’t want.
Media companies and publishers could save their industry and may even find a way to get users to pay for digital content if they used the RSS reader ‘smorgasbord’ model as a starting point. From there, they could develop the next stage in evolution and find new ways to add value by creating services that are smarter than your average RSS reader.
As I’ve said in previous posts, its the “SERVICE” that is missing from the digital media model. No one will pay for content (save video – maybe). Consumers, however, will pay for services. When home delivery was a valued service (now almost defunct) consumers had the peace of mind that if they skipped reading the paper for a couple of days – at least they still received a service worth paying for.
Perhaps through the acquisition of hip, new content apps (Yahoo buying Summly) , some media companies may be spared. So far, its too early to tell.
One thing is for certain, it will require a giant leap-frog jump to meet current user-behaviour trends and the ability to trust ‘true’ digital professionals if media companies want to save themselves over the next five years.
It’s 2013 and a few things have become apparent. Web technology has become somewhat homogenized. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it was inevitable that web standards would become more, ‘standard’ and that apps and tools have become widely available to the point where you rarely have to build anything from scratch.
Thanks to the surge in app development driven by mobile devices and the wide adoption of HTML5, it is easier than ever to architect a solution made up of components that work well together. UX designers, planners and developers have never had it so easy.
So what now? Web UX is at it’s peak. Most web UX folks are specializing more and more in the mobile space (including yours truly) as a natural progression to the next wave of technology and guess what? It’s kind of not mobile…
Mobile will still be at the center of the solutions we build, because we still need to need some manual control over what we do. Websites and – even applications are stupid. They don’t have any sort of real intelligence, they are either meant to display content and data, run a search or perform a defined set of functions. Sometimes you have a few algorithms that feign intelligence but for the most part, we, as users, still need to input data in the right places to make things work.
The next wave of UX will be outside the box (literally). I’ve been saying this for years. back in 2005, everyone sort of just looked at me like I was mad. It won’t be so focused on display technology. Instead the focus will be on artificial intelligence or sophisticated programs that reduce the amount of data we need to input.
A great example of where this is happening can now be seen in iphone apps that interface with your home thermostat, so you can adjust your heating and cooling settings remotely. Smartphones can start cars, act as your PVR remote and there are countless more apps that integrate into your environment. Next up, apps that can predict or respond to changes in situations so all you really need to do is monitor via your mobile device.
This is the era of appliance technology – meets mobile technology – meets data from the web and the user. The beginnings of affordable home automation and control over our environments through a central mobile device.
Are you ready for the next wave of job titles? Environmental Experience! Not UX but EX. Okay, we can still call it UX if you like – because there will always be a user. The focus will shift from your on-screen experience to what’s going on in your environment.
Your canvas: a real-world space – The palette: intelligent personal assistants (SIRI will get smarter – don’t worry), refrigerators that do cool stuff (other cool stuff), washing machines that can get the laundry going when you’re not there, beverage machines that will make anything you want, even ‘Tea, Earl-Grey, Hot’ before you get out of bed.
DONT PANIC! Unless you really can’t let go of your wireframes and figure out how to architect this environment. Oh Yes, as an EX or UX professional, you will need to be more cognizant of technology in order to use this new palette. You’ll need to know what component works with the latest artificial intelligence and which brand appliances will work together, while driving towards the goal of less data input from the user (less work).
If that isn’t mind boggling enough, you will need to factor-in personal robotic assistants – in about ten to fifteen years. They might cost as much as a car but everyone will want one. They will be the new iPhone of 2028.
Architecting this will be fun and super exciting. You will be profiling users and coming up with better ways to create archetypes for these new spaces. Beyond that, it will be pulling the respective pieces together that result in an enjoyable, easy to use environment rather than a more complicated frustrating one.
And of course, there will always be user testing – lots and lots of user testing.
As 2012 draws to a close and a New Year about to begin, I will now cast my top five annual predictions for 2013. This is a long post…
1. Print will disappear sooner than you think
2012 ended with Newsweek going digital-only and abandoning print after 80 years.
What most publishers don’t want to face, especially those who are close to retirement age, is that they no longer control content distribution. The print model is no longer sustainable with print advertising on a steady decline.
Of course by now most publications have digital content in the form of web, mobile and everything in between. Pay-walls or paid-metering now being used on many news publications in Canada and the US became the trend in 2012 as media companies and publishers desperately try to get readers to pay for digital content. The revenue gained from paid-metering doesn’t offset the decline in print revenue however, given that metering just means that they need to also offset the decline in page views and sales in digital advertising.
So they have two choices; stop the printed edition and drastically reduce the size of their staff and learn to survive in this (not so new) digital jungle OR shut down altogether and go out of business.
Twitter is the new newspaper. Newspapers can’t comprehend the shift from a local distribution model to a model that embraces the new digital news reader. That is, people who consume content on social media as their main source – socially aggregated content. People don’t care as much for local content these days, they really just want good content. You can pretty much aggregate the type of content you like by following select users on Twitter .
Oh – and by the way, reading content aggregated through Twitter makes pay-walls more-or-less irrelevant. Publishers will need to find new ways to make revenue in this digital world.
It will all come down to services, bundling content and a more data-driven data model.
My new content application prototype, Beamwire CL solves a lot of these problems, so I’ll be talking to a few potential media partners in 2013.
Related Link: Newsweek abandons print after 80 years, goes online only
2. The shift from social to private will begin
Okay, the trolls who are out there will sling mud at this one saying that if you want more privacy, stop using social media. Thanks in advance for overstating the obvious.
Now the reality is that most users have their lives so entrenched in social media that shutting off may be tough to do. There are so many services attached to core social applications that it might become a bit overwhelming to manage.
The opportunity in 2013 is to help users get some of their privacy back. Social media is still a popularity contest and your “social equity” is quantified by how many followers you have. This trend can backfire when you mix large lists of “friends”, most of whom you don’t really know with highly personal information and details about your life.
Identity theft has been on the rise as a result and I think now more than ever, users need tools to help them organize and separate the popularity contest from information that they really only want to share with a select few.
Part of this is education but some folks may be too lazy to bother with learning fast enough. Services that help automate privacy will become popular and help users get some control over their private lives again. The opportunities are too numerous to mention here but keep an eye out for emerging startups that address this issue in 2013.
3. TV will emerge from a new digital cocoon
TV has already changed so much with users moving away from traditional cable companies and adopting alternative means for getting TV shows, movies and video content. Apple TV has been one of the front-runners with users paying à la carte for content rather than paying big fat subscription fees for channels they never watch.
In Canada, this trend may be moving slower than it has in the US thanks to monopolies by companies like Rogers and Bell – Antitrust anyone?
Regardless, users aren’t waiting, they are already going around the problem and taking control of their programming experience through other means. Take into account new display technologies, better entertainment options on gaming consoles (i.e. Xbox 360) and integrated services through the ever expanding Apple TV (they are rumored to have a TV coming out in 2013), you will see a major shift in 2013 in how users consume programming.
Related Link: Apple TV hinted at by CEO Tim Cook
4. Mobile will be the nucleus of our digital ecosystem
This is already happening but will become more prevalent in 2013.
Where your PC or laptop used to be hub of your digital universe not so long ago, the smartphone has now taken its place putting the PC on the periphery. This makes perfect sense since the smartphone is the one piece of tech that users always have access to 24/7.
Now the smartphone acts as our remote control, home monitoring center, music library, gaming console, they can start our cars and they initiate data synchronization from almost any location.
The eco-system will continue to grow around our smartphones as 2013 unfolds.
5. UX is going to be huge
I think 2012 is the first year I’ve seen a flurry of job postings from companies trying to hire their very own UX person. UX education is becoming more formalized and it seems companies are realizing that they need this service in-house in order to be successful in a digital world.
That is all well and good, however not all UX folks are cut from the same cloth and hiring a dedicated UX person may or may not be the best decision to make in 2013. When many hiring managers are still trying to figure out the difference between UX and UI (they are the same thing no?) – then maybe it’s better to start with outside help first.
To be clear, a UX expert should have UI (user interface design), user interaction design and information architecture under their belt with a thorough knowledge of how to apply cognitive ergonomics and solve design problems across multiple platforms. In addition, they should have experience in user testing – formal and informal.
It might seem like a lot to ask but then this is no small role in any organization. You can’t become a good UX professional by attending a few 3-day conferences. User experience takes, well…experience. You won’t be good at it really until you’ve been doing it for at least 4-5 years (I’ve been doing it for 14 years).
The option that should not be overlooked in 2013 is hiring these UX folks on contract. Are you sure you really need someone full-time / permanent? Another option is looking for a design company that specializes in UX. That might be the best way for non-UXers in your organization to learn how the process works before you make the decision to invest in more headcount.
If you do decide to go with someone full-time, make sure they can do a few things first:
- Research – they can use metrics and know how to find data on current user trends
- Business Goals – they understand your business goals and know how to cross reference your goals with a successful user experience.
- Prototyping – They need to know how to generate effective prototypes for multiple devices. I can hear the UX trolls coming down the mountain on this one! Many UXers have made their living from producing reams of documentation. This worked well for web pages at one time but it just doesn’t put things into context fast enough when you’re looking at a user experience on multiple devices.
- Less documentation – this goes hand-in-hand with the third point. Strategic documentation is still valid but should be considered in small doses and when it really is needed to clarify certain issues. (i.e. do you really need to produce another eco-system?)
Part of the fun in casting predictions is watching how many of them come true. I will elaborate throughout the year on some of the above as things progress.
Happy New Year everyone and all the best in 2013!