I was watching a TED video of Clifford Stoll last week, during which he was asked to talk about the future. He confessed that he didn’t think he was the best person to ask, saying “In fact, I think if you really want to know what the future’s going to be, don’t ask a scientist, a technologist, a physicist… No, if you want to know what society’s going to be like in twenty years, ask a kindergarten teacher.” I mention this because earlier that very same day, I was paying attention to my four daughters, all of whom were in the same room and all of whom were consuming one form of content or another in a different medium on a different device. What was running through my mind was the fact that these kids are not only going to demand content delivered on their terms, they will demand it.
Throughout this post, I am refusing to discuss a certain gadget announced by a certain company named after a certain fruit that will be released amid much fanfare next month. The first reason for this is that everyone is growing weary of such discussions. The second is that this first product release is only the beginning and will be opening the door to a new class of products that will heavily influence expectations and demands from upcoming generations.
And So It Begins
I bought my daughter the movie “Sitck It!” on DVD for her eleventh birthday yesterday. The cover proudly hailed, “DVD + Digital Content,” which I thought was strange because a DVD is digital content, but I was pretty sure a knew what they meant. And what they meant was that it contained a second disc with a DRM-signed file in iTunes and Windows Media Player format. My daughter was beside herself that she didn’t have to sit in front of the television to watch it. Instead, she could load it on her iPod, take it with her, and watch it wherever and whenever she chose.During the time when I was helping her download the movie into iTunes on our family desktop PC, her older sister was on a laptop watching videos posted to Facebook by her friends, her seven year old sister was watching an iCarly television episode on her iPod and her four year old sister was interacting with friends from across town on the Club Penguin web site. Not a single person sitting in front of the boob tube. No two people consuming the same content at the same time.
Taking Dr. Stoll’s advice, I have combined my own habits and preferences for content consumption with observations of my own household to form these five rules that I think will dictate content consumption patterns five to ten years from now. Kids growing up in the digital age will expect and demand that content have the following qualities:
- It must filterable. They will not tolerate having to spend their time reading through ten articles they don’t care about to find one they do. This is another way of saying that content distribution is going to flip from a push model to a pull model. If your content doesn’t have handles, it won’t be going anywhere.
- It must be asynchronous. Again, I don’t think people appreciate the parallel universe our kids live in these days with DVRs and iTunes. We all grew up in a world where our schedules had to wrap around broadcasts (think not just television, but library and store hours, magazine and newspaper deliveries, etc…). This generation is entering a world where the broadcast schedule wraps around them. Content is downloaded now and consumed later, at their convenience.
- It must be portable. This is a mega trend I see that, despite what many feel is a large amount of hype, is actually being underestimated. Most people think of portable in terms of taking content on to a plane or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I am talking about taking content into the other room or out on the porch – a few feet (meters if you prefer) away. In a family with four children, I am watching the splintering of content consumption with great interest as, at any given time, you will see four or five family members reading, listening to, and/or watching different content at the same time in the same room.
- It must be compelling. Content production used to be expensive and time consuming. Amateurs can now upload high definition video with integrated graphics and subtitles that exceed the quality of professional versions from just five years ago. This can be uploaded to YouTube in seconds and viewed by hundreds or even millions in a matter of days. All this for the cost of a $500 flip camera and an hour of time. This democratization of content production and distribution means that, to a certain extent, all publishers are in the fashion business now. It’s not enough to have technically sound content; it must be visually appealing and grab attention.
- It must be interactive. As a software developer, I know first hand how expensive a mouse click is. It’s astonishing how rapidly human tolerances can recalibrate, and a few extra mouse clicks can literally destroy a product. One inadvertent click might even cost you $150k. This is all to say that people are having less and less tolerance for hunting for answers and it needs to be embedded, linked, or otherwise a single click away. An article about cyber security, for example, may reference a particular news story. Many people will inevitably want to pause reading the article to gain a deeper understanding of the incident by reading the full account of the incident. Path of least resistance. Instant gratification. And so on.
Maybe publishers think I’m being an alarmist. Somehow, though, I can’t resist a shameful attempt at borrowing from Dirty Harry: “I know what you’re thinking. Will it take ten years or only five? Well, to tell you the truth in all this excitement I don’t know what to think myself. But being that this is the Internet, the most powerful change agent in the history of publication since the printing press, and can blow your publication clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?”