Strategies for a new presence on the Internet

Things have changed

The Internet is over 40 years old. The World Wide Web is over 20. Many of the conventions we are now accustomed to, like websites promoting a single program or product, banner ads, email contact information, etc. are the standards that makeup the internet experience to many of people who use it. A great deal of time goes into designing the art and technology used to craft these sites, but the model is based on the same principles we adhere to for television. If we build it, they will come – if we can just cut through all the clutter and make viewers aware it exists.

We say the web is a “lean forward” environment meaning a visitor who peruses a website is more engaged than a passive television viewer. This is a false assumption. Technology has made TV viewing a much more engaging activity if only to find the content itself. While some viewers still sit down at a scheduled time to see a show, many take a much more active role. They’ll tell their DVR/Tivo to find the shows they like or heard about. They’ll go to a video rental shop (if they can still find one in their neighborhood) or subscribe to Netflix and rent an entire season. Then play them in the car for the kids or copy them to their iPhone to watch on the train ride in to work. If this much has changed for ancient old television how can we not expect a more nimble Internet hasn’t grown as well?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Web2.0. While this term is considered passé today, the concepts behind it are ones to consider for a new approach. From a design perspective the sites look dull or even uninspired. Visually, these websites look  stripped down and bare. They have uncluttered layouts with very few distractions. The juice that makes them run is content. Constantly updated content. Not just weekly, daily or even hourly – constantly. Many of them aren’t even much of a “website” in the sense we know websites. The Internet is going “real time” and that is a great development for those in the television business.

Let’s take a step back to remember our media history and think about this for a second. Driven by the technology of the day, television was born a “real time” medium – Live.  With no way to record television or video, other than filming a TV monitor, techniques were developed to communicate.  Borrowing heavily from the language of film, live editing or switching between multiple cameras, pre-positioned around a live event became what television was. Eventually videotape was invented. This allowed more traditional film production techniques to be used in producing content. It took until today for digital post-production to become so technically sophisticated that it’s affordable and accessible to almost anyone who wants to “say” something.

But the core competency of television, and you could make a case for radio also, is the live dissemination of information. Event coverage or news. Whatever you want to call it – there is a constant stream of information coming out and an audience with an insatiable appetite for more. Along side the infostream, and contributing to it, is analysis of what’s happening and the editing (both figuratively and contextually) of this information. These too, are areas that TV/Radio organizations have considerable strength in.

The convergence of media and telecommunications – TVphones – helps grow the audience. The technologies have merged and live television has an advantage. Cellular, G3, G4 and WiFi are all radio technologies. While not exactly the same thing as microwave and satellite transmission there are enough similarities that becoming expert in these concentrations is not that great a stretch. I don’t use the term “mobile” because there is a television bias in that term. For now, let’s table any discussion of “Mobile TV” because the financial and technical hurdles associated with that space makes it a tomorrow possibility at best. What is real today? What do iPhone and Android phone users and iPad and tablet users “get”? As mentioned earlier, traditional television programs and movies are available or can be made (ripped) ready for consumption on these devices. Obviously, content producers who want their stuff seen will make it easily available on all these devices.

Here’s where it really gets different. The interaction of users with content when using these devices. Whether voice or finger swipe initiated,  searched content is delivered TO the user DIRECTLY. Some of this is “app” driven – another discussion for another time. The point being information or content finds it’s way to the user. Does this come from a website? Kind of, but not exactly. Does the user care that there’s a website associated with the information they seek? Maybe, if they visit that site for a recap later from home. And, depending on the type of information, is it fresh or only updated in the morning? If it‘s dated information will the user wait for the trusted source to update or find another more timely trusted source?

This is happening now. One of the first “hacks” for the iPad was how to have it setup at the Apple store. The iPad requires initializing with an iTunes account while tethered to a PC. So, in order for the iPad to work you had to own a Mac or PC. Enough people didn’t own a computer that the “hack” of using a Mac at the Apple store to initialize the iPad was widely circulated. By 2011 there will be more smart phones than PC’s and that doesn’t even count hybrids like Slate/tablets and SmartTVs/SetTopBoxes.

Although these devices are also used to visit websites, their design is for “content consumption.”  Content consumption being a more passive experience. Content is played or viewed through the device.  Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and ABC News are redefining how their content is consumed while Hulu, UStream, YouTube and others play in this newish medium. Most of these devices are inexpensive compared to the price of a full PC’s, and don’t require much technical skill to use. They are bought by folks with some disposable income who are not necessarily very web savvy and they are impatient. These users will expect the content they want to find them.

Implementation

The most immediate challenge is to create content quickly that is easily updated. Then to figure out ways to get it to users in whatever way they want, whenever and wherever they want and to have them keep wanting to get it from the same source. An Internet Services Group (ISG) will facilitate an entire organizations participation in meeting these goals.

Surrender the homepage and main websites to participants. There are several providers that offer all the services needed for robust delivery of traditional websites along with the ability to update these pages without expert intervention. ISG will select pre-built and in some rare instances, change pre-build or construct new designs to accommodate new projects. At the beginning of each new media project an Internet strategy will be defined. Perhaps a webpage isn’t appropriate for a project. A webpage for a “Reader Services for the Blind” project can be constructed for visually impaired persons, but a podcast describing the offer might be a better use of resources.
After a webpage has been determined to be an appropriate use of Internet services a layout will be agreed upon along with a maintenance schedule.  Detailed instructions for the regular maintenance of the site and any training, if needed, will be provided by the ISG.  Rather than having content pushed from project producers to web workers up to the net – the content creators take responsibility for managing their own content. This is one way to insure that information is distributed in the most timely way and that content producers have a greater stake in their online content. Formal  workshops  and less formal one-on-one instruction is key to making this successful. These same procedures can be extended to outside partners to host even more, non-home-grown content.

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