Future Of Web Publishing And Journalism Online: Key Trends For 2014 And Beyond - Part II
What's ahead of us when it comes to web publishing? How will the tools, methods and approaches to design, to create and to package news and information change over the course of the next few years?
Photo credit: Technology eye by Shutterstock
In Part I of this journey I have been looking at the slow, but unstoppable changes that are already under way in terms of structure, metaphors and approaches that are being used to communicate, distribute and share information in more effective ways.
Specifically, I looked at three particular trends:
In the second part of this article, I am instead looking at these other key trends:
1) Dusk of Blogs
How blogs are changing their role and importance within the information ecosystem.
2) Beyond WordPress
WordPress has been a revolutionary tool for small and large independent web publishers. But in its fantastic growth, it may have lost track of its true original purpose. What's there now to replace it?
3) Instant Publishing
When it comes to publishing online, it's not just "ease of use" that web publishers want. Immediacy, real-time, is the new in high-demand frontier. How rapidly can you go from thinking of a promotion or a new report to actually having a professional-looking page of it online?
4) Invisible UI
Just-in-time interface controls are the future. The time of multiple toolbars with tens of buttons and icons, is definitely over. The new UI is basically invisible... until you need it.
5) Design Intelligence
The web design and publishing ecosystem presently doesn't allow for non-technical people to create and maintain professional-looking websites without having to heavily depend on a web design studio or agency. This is about to change. Rapidly.
6) Design Marketplaces
Big opportunity ahead for those who will make it easy and efficient to find, select and organize the best web design templates available out there in a fast, easy and effective fashion.
Here all the details:
1) Dusk of Blogs
My take on blogs is that we are in a completely different phase than the one I have lived through, between 1999 and 2007, in which blogs revolutionized the online publishing universe and became representative of many individual voices who could, for the first time, express their ideas, report and analyze the things and issues that interested them the most.
These were indeed revolutionary times as for the first time, anyone with an Internet connection, could publish without special equipment or economic investment, whatever he wanted for anyone on the planet to read.
But times have rapidly changed, and while blogs have continued to spring up all around us, the average quality of these sites has really gone down. A large number of them is built with the sole purpose of generating money via some pre-determined monetization strategy which has nothing to do with informing its reading public on a specific topic.
This does not mean that there are no good quality bloggers that have retained their original purpose and who have kept on producing high quality content and insight, but their number has definitely shrunk significantly over what this number used to be.
A blog remains on the other hand a very useful publishing format, that well supports short form reporting, personal journalism and other content types where individual authorship is highly valued.
The key difference I see, is that today a blog is not an island anymore.
By this I mean that a blog cannot be, in my view, a strong-enough format to support by itself the communication needs of a company or service online. It can be one component in their communication arsenal, but it can't be the "whole thing", like people used to think for the first few years after the turn of the century.
A blog has its own specific dimension, and it is the one of a space where communication flows direct, informal and freed from any respect to timing, form and accuracy. The blog is, in most cases, a perfect vehicle for keeping customers informed, for reporting in short bursts company news and updates or for sheer personal expression, curation or notes-logging.
For those who do not have a commercial purpose, a blog is then indeed a great vehicle to share and curate valuable info discovered online, and for those with some artistic inclination the blog can indeed be an ideal venue for personal expression.
But a blog, unless you are a researcher, writer or poet, can hardly be the container or driving publishing metaphor for a company, service, or organization web site. It can be a valuable component of it, but it cannot be the overarching structure.
For these reasons I expect blogs as we know them, to remain ideal communication and publishing vehicles for any individual who wants to chronicle, share and inform others on his/her personal discoveries, insights and ideas.
In all other cases I see blogs as losing their ability to reach and make an impact, not just because their number has grown so huge that it is very hard to emerge when there is so much "competition", or because of the overall low and inconsistent content quality of their contents, but mostly because the blog is not anymore the ideal format for creating and delivering other types of high-value content.
Think for example of content directories, news streams, comparing products or tools, asking and responding to questions, storytelling or showcasing and illustrating complex ideas. All of these content publishing "formats" require something different than a "blog". Just like a forum, or a webinar, are not the ideal places where to publish an investigative report, so the blog is not the ideal place to try to publish, showcase and distribute all types of content and information.
Thus, the blog becomes a standard web site component, a module, an optional content section for any author, site or company having a presence online.
Just like the Home page, the FAQ or the Privacy Page, the blog has, in my view, its own specific role and dimension, and this is why it should not be used to manage the whole communication spectrum of needs of a serious organization or company.
Check also: The blog is dead, long live the blog
and for a different viewpoint: What blogging was
2) Beyond WordPress
On the web publishing front, tools like Blogger or WordPress, nonetheless their large user base and wide adoption, have, in my opinion, both reached a limit in simplifying and streamlining their user interfaces in ways that make their tools more accessible to anyone.
WordPress has become a rich and complex CMS that can do almost anything you want it to do, while Blogger has not lost its old-style clunky interface, which remains pretty intimidating and hard to understand for non-technical people.
And so for many other web services and tools that promise to help those who have no technical background or desire to code, but which in reality remain way too complex and "easy-to-break" for anyone who is there doing for the first time.
"...there are still too many options, too many settings, too many things which you have an unnecessary level of control over in the administrative user interface.
Things like admin colour schemes, quickpress, press this, post-via-email, remote publishing, inline theme editing, media editing and multi-everything. Things that many people have never even used".
"66% of [Users] said they use WordPress as a CMS and not as a blog".
"Recently, it's become even more evident that WordPress is heavily used as a content management system (CMS) with many more sites now using it to organize any kind of content rather than purely as a blog"
"There's too much stuff everywhere, too much clutter, too many (so many) options getting in the way of what I really want to do: publish content".
John O'Nolan, who has worked for WordPress a long time, explains this issue of WordPress complexity and unfriendliness exceedingly well in the introductory part of this concept page WordPress is so Much More than Just a Blogging Platform and even better in the video you can click on the top of this page: https://ghost.org/features/
John is also the guy behind a new revolutionary web publishing tool called Ghost, which is free, open-source and available now, and which he has developed and built to overcome the very issues outlined above.
On the opposite side new, little or yet unknown tools like Barley, which allows anyone to edit and update the content of their website "inline" without needing to learn anything new, or like rapidly emerging web publishing platforms such as Roon.io or like Medium, which show a completely new visual and modular approach to content creation, one that relieves the author/writer from being surrounded by buttons, commands and tools that do not really help his immediate need for concentrated focus on what is being written.
3) Instant Publishing
Instant publishing tools are a new breed of tools and services that allow anyone to publish content online within the least amount of time, and with the maximum possible ease.
These new tools and services are characterized by:
- a minimal signup process
- a very simple interface
- the ability to easily add and manage any type of content (text, images, video and more)
- inline editing (you can edit the content right on your page) and
- can be edited and maintained from a smartphone
Here a few examples of instant publishing tools.
Why are these instant-publishing tools relevant? Worth paying attention to?
These tools are worth paying attention to because they represent a first notable departure from the two basic alternatives available to anyone who wanted to publish content online:
a) to use a social media platform like Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIN
b) to open a blog using WordPress or similar system
Now, one can do away with the still rather complex interface of WordPress, Blogspot and other classical blogging systems and can start publishing right away, without the need to learn anything techy.
Medium and similar platforms are one option. They offer in fact a very attractive solution, since they make the technical part of publishing vanish completely while providing an elegant and clutter-free, non-intimidating interface to work with. In addition, these web publishing platforms provide publishers and independent authors with an existing audience and with the ability to become immediately visibile inside major search engines, making your chances to be read and appreciated much higher than if you did this on your own newly started personal blog.
(Yes, you can't design, personalize, brand or paint your sidebars with ad slots in Medium, but that's exactly part of the reason why readers flock to it).
Instant-publishing tools can therefore be considered an emerging alternative to blogs, especially for those who have no technical inclination, and who want professional-looking results in little time. These are people who need an easy-to-use publishing tool, for a specific use or promotion, which they can easily update and edit even from their smartphones.
"Posting on Medium is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. All posts are organized into "collections," which are defined by a theme and a template.
The burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. That's a real issue, right? I've talked to lots of journalists who want to have some outlet for their work that doesn't flow through an assigning editor.
But when I suggest starting a blog, The Resistance begins.
I don't know how to start a blog. If I did, it'd be ugly. Or: I'd have to post all the time to keep readers coming back. I don't want to do that. Starting a blog means, for most, committing to something -- to building a media brand, to the caring and feeding of an audience, to doing lots of stuff you don't want to do.
That's why ease of use -- the promise of Facebook, the promise of Twitter, the promise of Tumblr -- has been such a wonderful selling point to people who want to create media without hassle."
4) Invisible UI
The appearance and rapid growth of several other instant publishing web services, seems to confirm the strong drive and unstoppable demand for content publishing tools that require the least tech competence, no installation or configuration, zero-time to adoption and use, and which, given quality input, can also package and present your content in a professional-looking fashion.
One key characterizing trait of all these new tools and apps is the gradual but steady disappearance of the clunky toolbars and menus of the past, which is giving way to just-in-time, contextual, visible-only-when-you-need-them, beautiful, large and easy to click visual controls.
The empty screen canvas with a blinking cursors awaiting your input is going to be the staple of new, clean and simplified publishing tools.
This new approach does not only make publishing tools less intimidating to the novice non technical user, allowing them to focus on their key goal: writing, presenting, exposing, but it also facilitates a new and more effective tool learning approach.
In fact, the new minimalistic UI approach, where commands and tools appear "just-in-time", when you need them, lets users discover and learn new features and tools gradually, in context with their own specific needs and in small, progressive chunks.
Contrast and compare this with the classic approach of presenting lists of options and features in blocks that the user is not familiar with.
Yes, it is true that to obtain good results with this approach, you need to reduce drastically the number of options and controls you let the user control, but this needs not be a step back in terms of the results and ease with which authors can achieve them.
It can actually be an opportunity to further improve the "integrated" design intelligence of these tools.
5) Design Intelligence
For years web developers and other small and large startups have been designing publishing tools that, appropriately, provide no design intelligence.
You either know about design and layout, or you are left to discover on your own what works and what doesn't when it comes to design and publish content online.
Apparently, the maximum design achievement in the web publishing industry so far has been to provide total freedom to create and modify whatever is provided or offered as a starting design base. No boundaries, no limits.
"Get this empty web page and do what you want with it" alongside "Use anyone of our tens of templates and change it any way you want to suit your needs!", seem to be the ultimate mantra when it comes to easy-to-use web publishing tools.
But anyone who has tried them, knows quite well how frustrating and difficult in fact is to actually create and publish a truly professionally-looking web site.
As a matter of fact, this design freedom that is promoted as a key benefit for the user, if seen in absolute terms, can easily be mistaken as a good and positive thing. But unless you are a trained designer, the freedom to move, resize and style anything on a page wherever you want becomes more of a frustrating burden rather than the advantage it was expected to be.
Because you can't add "design" qualities to a web page, by mistakenly expecting that having controls for moving or changing anything that is on the page would equate with the ability to produce a good design.
That's where most people thinking fails or is purposely misled.
Because most people have had no design, or visual communication training, even when provided with the tools to edit and potentially improve their work, remain baffled by how difficult this actually is.
The problem is that when you create a new layout or modify an existing design, but you have no design training or skills you, you invariably end up with something that looks immediately amateurish.
What about all those individuals who want to take control of their publishing design without having to go back to a Web Design course or to Fine Arts school? Isn't there an opportunity to offer them tools that allow them to benefit from those who do have design skills without forcing them to depend on a real, human web designer for any change, adjustment or modification to their publications?
"Design intelligence", a term that I have not borrowed from elsewhere, is in my view a set of programmatic rules and pre-sets that while limiting somehow your freedom to do whatever crosses your mind, can guarantee a solid, indestructible design framework within which all the changes you can make, have already been tested and can never lead to inadvertently lower the design quality of your content or destroy the quality of an original template that you are attempting to customize for your needs.
Design intelligence is therefore the ability to provide a professional-looking design framework, made up of templates and modules, in which the author can yes, personalize and make modifications to the "base" template, but within a set of design "rules" or "boundaries" that prevent him from destroying the original design integrity, legibility and orderliness.
Design intelligence need not be forced down the throat of any web publisher.
Freedom to destroy good design is a choice, but it should not be the default one, as is the case now.
Freedom to change and modify a web page shouldn't mean providing the right to destroy the "design character" of a page. Because that character is the key "thing" that holds it together.
If desired, "design intelligence" can easily be embedded / integrated into any web publishing tool.
In this new way of working, where the design is invisibly embedded in the content you are creating, the new buzzword is "double-click to change" as ready-made placeholders for all kinds of content situations are readily available and need only to be edited and personalized before being published.
Presentation tools like:
6) Design Templates Shops
While Invisible UI, Design Intelligence and Instant Publishing tools become more widely available, you as an author, a brand or publisher, may still want to choose the way in which your content is going to be presented.
That is, if you are already an online publisher responsible for one or more web sites, or someone who has just decided to create a new online destination while using WordPress, you will need to decide how to "design" your web site in a way that perfectly fits your communication needs.
Today, when you want to select the look of your publication, ebook, web site or service you either go shopping for a great-looking template or you hire a web designer to do the job for you.
Problem is that, while there exist a few large online outlets for web site design templates, these have yet to realize how critical it is for their customers to be able to find, select, preview, compare and evaluate their on-sale web design templates.
As of today, February 2014, we really have no curated and properly organized design catalogs where onecan rapidly find different design matching his requirements and select the one that best fits his needs.
This is why I expect that there will be highly profitable opportunities not only for those that create, sell and distribute these design templates, but more than ever to those who can pick, organize and present them in ways that make them easily accessible, categorized and accessible by anyone.
Know of any early player in this new space?
Originally written and curated by Robin Good and first published on MasterNewMedia on Tuesday February 18th 2014 as "Future Of Web Publishing And Journalism Online: Key Trends For 2014 And Beyond - Part II".
Beyond WordPress - WordPress.org through a magnifying glass by Shutterstock
Instant Pub - Hand snapping fingers by Shutterstock
Invisible UI - Brunette in future by Shutterstock
Design Intelligence - Businesswoman creating frame by Shutterstock
Design Template Shop - Collection of various sewing button by Shutterstock
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