Cross-device publishing finally exists!

In May last year, I wrote a post relating to the abundance of systems (or rather posters and presentations of systems) claiming to represent the much-vaunted ‘content-goes-in-here-and-comes-out-working-everywhere’ solution.

At the time, I was working as Chief Product Officer at an international agency. The agency worked with many brands, all of which had a significant interest in – if the many presentations, posters and banner ads were to be believed – the myriad solutions available to them.

The problem, as it turned out after much research, was that none of the systems actually delivered on the claims. Sure, some excelled in one area or another, but none provided the ability to assemble, animate, integrate and measure the same content across the many devices our brand customers demanded. This represented a real challenge, especially as I was under pressure to propose a solution for a retail client desperate to provide its customers with an interactive derivative of their catalogue on iPad.

Working closely with the tech team, we architected a solution that drew upon some of the elements of some of the systems available. It was never going to be a scalable platform solution, and would certainly mean that processes and workflows would have to be duplicated to produce subsequent catalogues, but at least it would provide the vehicle for our client to launch an attractive, ecommerce-enabled catalogue on the iPad. It was pretty successful as well, going straight into the Guardian’s Top30 iPad apps list – much to the joy of our client. Everyone was happy. Until the second catalogue.

You see, the inevitable impact of not having a platform solution, a solution that addresses many of the repeat tasks associated with producing subsequent pieces, is that processes must be repeated. The producers on the project had to repeat tasks; Developers had to repeat tasks; Our customer’s own design team had to repeat tasks. OK, the result was going to look great but the work involved was also great. There was an unavoidable cost implication.

At this point I want to make something clear: I don’t write this blog as a means to publicize or promote. I write it purely as a commentary on what I experience in the industries in which I work. My opinions are my own and they are always considered. I feel it’s important to mention this given that I’m about to refer to a solution, a platform, in which I have a stake.

Let me explain: Having left the agency last year, I joined a small tech company with which I’d been associated a few years prior.  The company intended to launch the supposedly ubiquitous solution I’d been searching for: a SaaS-based platform providing the tools to create, animate, integrate and measure, interactive, shoppable content experiences that work across web, tablet and mobile. Sound simple? Of course not.

A few months ago, the first version was launched. We expected some hiccups and we had them. But since then, thanks to the brilliant product team and the scrum process to which they so diligently adhere, we have released no less than 20 new versions. And last night, we went live with undoubtedly the most significant version to date.

I’m not going to use this post as a feature list, or even explain the significance of yesterday’s update. All I’m going to do with absolute confidence, is say the solution, apparently ubiquitous in May last year, finally exists. It really does.

And guess what? the first live App, produced by Conran, with no need for coding whatsoever,  went straight into the Guardian Top30 iPad apps list! (This time for a fraction of the cost to the customer…)

The website is here. The product is truly impressive. And yes, mine is a thoroughly considered opinion!

You can’t have your privacy and eat it

Amid the furore over the bungled EU Cookie law there seems a real hysteria over ‘Online Privacy,’ with some effectively suggesting the term constitutes an oxymoron (a bit like ‘English summer’).

Take a few minutes to watch the below TED video featuring Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla…(article continues below the video)

Ostensibly, Kovacs’ points are alarming. But before we get all ‘Outraged of Surrey’ about it, isn’t this what the Web was meant to be all about? Wasn’t it all about providing content relevant to the individual rather than generically to the entire online population? Without some form of identification associated to the individual, how is any Web mechanic supposed to provide relevance? You can’t have your online privacy cake and eat it.

I think the problem here is actually one of definition. Privacy is black-and-white. A lack of privacy implies an invasion, therefore a Bad Thing. However, if instead we talk about (and provide) transparency, then things change fundamentally.

If the language around this emotive issue was based upon providing transparency as opposed to removing privacy, then I believe attitudes would change entirely.

My Collusion profile after a day at my desk.
(If you watched the video, this would make sense)

Cross-device platform publishing doesn’t exist. Not yet anyway.

Having recently been commissioned to carry out a study of the digital publishing platforms1 currently available, one aspect has become abundantly clear: everyone is chasing the dream.

The dream, depicted as a kind of candy wrapper in posters on the walls of so many publishing exhibition booths, is of a mechanism by which source content is input (one side of the candy wrapper), some magic happens (the candy itself) resulting in packaged experiences available seamlessly across desktop browsers, tablets and mobile phones (the other side of the candy wrapper).

Aspiration?

Sure, platforms exist that cater well for specific devices, and some that cater well for multiple devices, but none by using the same original, designed content, played in a form that works cross-device.  Maybe this is an unrealistic expectation. The tablet user interface for instance, inherently differs from the desktop interface. Swiping makes no sense on the desktop, whilst mouse-over makes no sense on a tablet. Purely from a design perspective then, surely it is impractical to cater for both? And what about differences in format? A page/window/panel/screen (delete as inappropriate) on one device will have a different aspect ratio on another.

In design resource alone, brands looking to publish across as wide a gamut of devices as possible are faced with an expensive undertaking. Cost pressure alone is driving demand.

It may be that initial releases require compromise in design. Alternatively, compromise may be in functionality. Either way, platforms will exist because demand dictates. And whoever caters for the demand, and does so well, is likely to do very nicely.

1Where ‘platform’ is used to describe a mechanism by which source content is input, edited, transformed and published to multiple devices in a format sympathetic to the high design value of a glossy magazine and capable of harnessing the interactivity of digital media.

Content [is/is not] King (delete as appropriate)

An interesting debate was sparked within LinkedIn’s Chief Content Officer group today. It centred around the (now rather tiresome) adage that ‘Content is King.’ It began when Ben Dorsey, a VP Marketing and Communications in Indiana, suggested that if Content is King, the organisation of that content is Queen. Disagreeing with this viewpoint (and struggling with the premise that organisation of anything can be particularly regal) I waded into the debate and aired my view that content isn’t ‘King,’ and that in fact, as suggested by the writer and activist Cory Doctorow, content is just something to talk about. It is actually the conversation triggered by the contentthat actually wears the crown. (continued..)

Who wears the crown?

(By way of warning, the liberal use of metaphors in this debate only gathers pace from this point on).

Stephen Berner, a content creator in NY, believes there is no King or Queen. Rather, there are multilple plates to be spun, ‘at the same velocity,’ and ‘incrementally dialled up.’ ‘Content is useless,’ he says, ‘unless it can be found..’

Margot Carmichael Lester, a content strategist from North Carolina, suggests that ‘..regardless of who wears the crown, CCOs and other content managers need to be the power behind the throne..’

King, Queen, Throne, Crown, Plates, Power, whatever, it seems to me that Ben’s original comment, his original content and the ensuing conversation, confirms that relevant content, made available at the right time, in the right format, for the right audience, inevitably triggers all-important conversation..

Have a read of the exchange in context in the LinkedIn CCO group.

Spare a thought for the Publishing Industry

Article first written for Figaro Digital

Spare a thought for the publishing industry. Having shed the reticence in adopting new technology (think of the suspicion with which the web was originally regarded) in favour of gay abandon on the iPad, many are finding their new obsession is not quite the panacea they thought it was. Pouring resource into creating magazine apps so complex that many readers never discover some of the more hidden content, publishers are shouldering considerable costs and all too often gaining minimal, sometimes diminishing return.

This seems fundamentally unfair. For a traditionally risk-averse industry, the level of experimentation in such a new technology is impressive. The publishing industry can’t afford not to produce content for the iPad yet at current returns, it can’t afford to continue. Critical to achieving a balance I believe, is the adoption of new business models more in tune with content agencies than traditional advertising and cover price-based publishing models. To do otherwise I suspect will mean more and more brands will opt to redirect marketing spend away from advertising and paid media, to their own content and their own channels.

Not as bad as all that