Facebook clarifications

Wow. I keep forgetting what a diverse audience I have for my Facebook status (this is why I cut so far back on my Twittering, I think all of this should be two-way communication, and I usually don't have the time to responsibly hold up my end of the bargain).

Yesterday I mentioned on my status that I was "'Kindling' interest in electronic journalism." This was, of course, a reference to my playing around with the Kindle 2 I received on Friday. I'm getting ready to do another round of design usability analyses on different communication platforms and thought that it would be good to start thinking about the design issues related to getting content onto the Kindle.

I immediately received two responses from Facebook (and real-life) friends of mine. One asserted that the Kindle could not save journalism which was too far dead to revive. The other dissed the Kindle itself.

So, in communicating with those friends, I was reminded that I should clarify my terminology with regularity.

I rarely mean "industry" when I talk about the future of journalism. Journalism predated the current corporations that provide America's news commodity by a couple of millennia. If and when those companies and corporations fall, journalism will simply look different.

Most journalism I consume is a mixture of the corporate commodity and the emerging models that have nothing to do with the corporate sphere. So, since my Kindle now allows me to subscribe (and pay for) blogs as well as newspapers, magazines and books, one of my interests in is how these sources outside the dominant corporate sphere can generate subscription revenue.

For example,
  • Now that I can pay a couple of bucks to get Gizmodo on my Kindle, how does that content need to be tailored for that environment?
  • How much will that cost in terms of time and effort? Is the market for the Kindle a likely crossover for Gizmodo?
  • If so, what's the cost benefit analysis of designing content versus shoveling blogbloat into the interface?
  • If not, are their other platforms that can take advantage of this distribution channel?
  • Will the combined platforms distributing this format down the long tail offset the cost in time and resources to redesign content for this medium?

I'm not interested in saving the industry we have. My research has always been about what comes next. The industry can either join in or not, as far as I'm concerned (I'm pretty jaded on this point since I've been arguing adaptation for more than 10 years now at conferences and meetings with little serious engagement).

On the platform side, I can offer about a dozen critiques of the Kindle after only 12 hours, most centering on the network architecture. BUT, I don't investigate tech for the "ultimate gizmo." That's why I have an 2nd generation iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPod video nano, a traditional iPod nano, I recently gave up my Treo, I recently cannibalized my last "dumb phone" to make a 1st Generation iPhone work, etc.

My view of diffusion is that high-end users like me are actually a small percentage of our culture. And we are trying to think about how to communicate with the WHOLE culture, not just the techno-elites.

The Kindle has sold a LOT of units. There are people who love books and hate video, and this is a device designed to capitalize on them. So, how should content be designed to reach them? Once someone buys a Kindle, how do we reach them? What will their expectations and tolerances of multimedia be?

Because my suspicion (and I have done not a shred of research on this yet) is that Kindle owners will not crossover as much with iPhone and iPod users as is conventionally thought. I can already see how could hack the "Text-To-Speech" function to include an audio file. Like an interview supplement to a newspaper story. But would anyone want that? Isn't the point of the Kindle to disengage the dynamic universe of multimedia content and approach content from a more static and simplified way? That some people will want static content that does not encourage interactivity but simple consumption?

(In my first few hours, I suddenly realized this was a device for the cultural elite and older generation. It seems to built around some older expectations of interface design. I think by comparison, Apple and the Blackberry are going after a completely different crowd).

So, I'll trying to make sure I understand the design and usability constraints (as well as the target market of users) for different distribution methods. Because though I am a VERY concerned about the digital divide, I am even more concerned about the platform divides that will come after more of our content is digitally distributed.

I don't think in 10 years much content will be consumed on a desktop computer. Which means we've got to think about how to design content in redundant language forms to ensure that someone doesn't miss a key part of the story because the Kindle has different capabilities that the iPhone.

Maybe it's important to also point out that all of these devices are transient. We barely have the infrastructure available to support mobile phones, much less the capability of distributing most of the multimedia forms we're capable of producing to most people.

My head is always in a particular place, and I forget how poorly my words convey what I'm thinking about, particularly when I'm so clumsy with the language.