December 17, 2009

Everything I want to say has already been said

I want to blog more, but whenever I think of something to write I do a web search and find someone else has already written it. For example, this article addresses the same point.

Is anyone reading the 937th review of that movie? Nope. But the 938th guy just wants to rant or rave.

It’s the detailed, thoughtful post you want to write but someone-already-did-three-months-ago that’s frustrating. And once I find it, I lose enthusiasm for writing my own take.

I need to have more original thoughts. Or resign myself to twittering links.

December 15, 2009

Google destroyed the web

I don’t mind advertising supported content. But I’m sick of the heaping mounds of garbage that clutter the Internet in an attempt to generate “passive income” on 0.000001% click-throughs of Google AdSense ads.

Today I searched for the answer to a question. The top hit was a useful article written by a subject-matter expert. (Good job, Google.) Many of the following hits were a simplistic rewrite of that article that had been search engine optimized, and were hosted on massive “content” sites cluttered with ads.

You can always tell a Search Engine Optimized page. A Search Engine Optimized page reads like it was written by a six year old. People who write a Search Engine Optimized page are sure to include keyword phrases many times so that search engines can optimize the way they find the Search Engine Optimized page.

I’m not saying anything new. I’ve just reached my personal “I want to scream” point.

I’ll give them some credit; Google has gotten better. Now when I search for “hilton fresno” I’m very likely to see Hilton’s official site ahead of the nine-million “I loaded the yellow pages into a web site” sites.

But it’s still out of control. You can’t trust search anymore. It’s why people are turning to social media for links and visiting trusted blogs and content providers.

(It’s good for my business, too: people buy Bible software because they want a dedicated tool and a curated library. There’s lots of free Bible content online, but our users don’t have time to separate the wheat from chaff.)

Google, Bing, and especially Wolfram Alpha are trying to offer more “answers,” rather than just links. But most of my searching is for another site, not just an answer. I want to be sent to somebody’s page – just a real page, not an ad-farm.

There’s an opportunity here to create a web search engine that punishes results littered with ads. Google can’t do it – they live off those ads. A site that took ads but didn’t have an incentive to send you to other sites full of them could offer a superior experience.

And there’s an opportunity for publishers, too, to take their quality brands and build content sites that take over some of what you’d use the search engine for.

December 14, 2009

Everything tastes better with umami

The secret to my amazing chili?

A quarter-cup of Worcestershire sauce.

Why is Caesar salad dressing so good?

Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and (I hope!) anchovies.

I spent years loving umami-rich foods without understanding why. It’s a natural flavor common in many foods and cuisines, but if you don’t know it’s there, it’s hard to incorporate in your own cooking.

The WSJ has an excellent overview, and you’ll find more information and recipes at the Umami Information Center. My rule of thumb? There aren’t many dishes you won’t improve with either parmesan cheese or Worcestershire sauce.

December 10, 2009

The future is now

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, wrote about The End of Book Publishing As We Know It. His post includes a video of Sports Illustrated’s tablet prototype.

It’s very cool, and looks like the obvious next step in publishing: the freshness of a web page, the editorial attention of a magazine, and the depth of a book, in the form factor of a Kindle.

It even looks comfortable and familiar to me… I feel like I’ve seen it before…

Separated at birth?

SITablet

Logos4HomePage

We’ve been building the future for a few years, and we’re shipping it now. (Minus the dedicated device with touch screen; but put Logos 4 on a tablet PC and you’re just about there.)

So here’s my experience-based take on Hyatt’s six conclusions about the future of book publishing:

1. The line between newspapers, magazines, and books is about to become blurred.

Boy, howdy. We contracted with professional news artists from major newspapers to build a whole new set of infographics, like Solomon’s Temple shown above. We consulted The Society for News Design’s annual awards book for Home Page layout ideas. The page incorporates hand-chosen excerpts from books and will integrate with Bible Study Magazine in the future.

And let me add databases to the blurry mix. A single table or piece of data in isolation won’t satisfy users of an interactive tool. SI will need to have their stats linked into massive back-end databases, just like a Bible map now needs to be backed up with all kinds of metadata.

2. Publishers will need to envision multimedia content from the beginning.

And in many cases this means starting over. We have dozens of books with graphic representations of Solomon’s Temple, but we had to start over to ensure we’d have not only a great image, but the high-resolution vector art and 3D model. (Look for that same temple model to be animated and explorable in the future.)

Publishers also need to secure the rights to re-mix and re-use data. You don’t want a timeline graphic, you want a database of events you can repurpose many ways.

3. Consumer expectations are going to skyrocket.

Paper is the true what-you-see-is-what-you-get medium. Our expectations for what we can do with it don’t go beyond scissors and tape. In the digital world, consumers expect the production values of a major motion picture with the data crunching of a spreadsheet and the flexibility of a scrapbook.

There are many issues for publishers to worry about here:

  • Production Quality – There will need to be a bigger investment in art and design. And, in interactive media, a significant investment in the design of the user interface. Design will need to anticipate usage scenarios, too. The picture bleeds off the page for artistic effect? Great – but can I copy it uncropped to put into my report?
  • Flexibility – We already had high-production-value multimedia content. The 1990’s saw a plethora of multimedia products; Microsoft’s Multimedia Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony was an excellent example of using every media type to produce something that wasn’t a book, a magazine, or a movie. But production of each product was insanely expensive, and each product was a closed box, tied tightly to a technological moment in time. These products are unusable today. Future-proof publishing needs to have flexibility designed-in.
  • IllustrationRights – The entire publishing industry is built on a rights-model designed for physical distribution. Any significant property (books with text, multiple contributors, and licensed images, or video with music, images, and other content) is tied down like Gulliver was by the Lilliputians. We are creating new media and new content not only to use it flexibly, but to be able to grant consumers the right to use it in the ways they’re demanding.

4. The cost of producing digital books will get more expensive.

In addition to audio, video, and design costs, publishers will need to invest more in markup and tagging. It’s not enough to cite an article in a footnote, it needs to be linked to the source. Are cross references links? Are people disambiguated? Are places tagged with latitude and longitude? Are events tagged for timelines? Are images annotated so that you can search for a picture as easily as for a word?

Indexing and abstracting will become much more important. Stand-alone back-of-the-book indexes will need to be replaced with rich tagging that works across multiple properties.

5. Digital content creation and distribution will become our primary focus.

We’re still distributing on DVD-ROM’s, to my amazement. (Broadband Internet just isn’t everywhere yet.) But a few months ago we shut down the last of our physical distribution network. The good news is, we didn’t own a warehouse, and serving that distribution network was just a small part of our business, and never our focus.

Physical products will remain an important part of the traditional publisher’s business, but they’ll need to decide if their focus will remain on physical-goods logistics or move to digital competencies. This is different than the move to sell off printing-presses a decade ago. It is more than asking “Do we outsource the warehouse?” It’s asking “Who are we?”

6. People will be reading more than ever.

The good news! We see this all the time. Freedom from the bonds of paper weight means we can give the user a great deal on more content than their shelves could hold. An easy interface and automated research tools help engage users with their content. Each innovation – especially our move to a newspaper-style Home Page – helps users get more out of their digital library. And when they get more value from it, they purchase more content.

Publishers, are you ready?

Take this simple quiz:

  • [ ] Graphic design is a core competency in-house, not an outsourced project.
  • [ ] I have unrestricted global rights to the content I publish.
  • [ ] I employ an Information Architect.
  • [ ] My content is always designed for use in multiple media or formats.
  • [ ] Everything we own or license is thoroughly indexed and stored in a database.
  • [ ] I employ an Interaction Designer.
  • [ ] Software development is a core competency in-house.
  • [ ] I have an experienced digital publishing partner, not a project-based contractor.

Do you need a perfect score? Nope. (I don’t have one either
.) But these are things to think about as we prepare for the new normal in publishing.

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