In my Web 4.0.1 post (please take these titles for what they’re worth…my disdain for trying to “version” the Web), I discussed “distributed data driven applications and services” as an emerging trend on the Internet. In retrospect, it appears I got tied up in that awful techno-speak that this industry has been propagating for the past twenty years, trying to make something really simple sound really fancy and complicated; I guess our industry is overly concerned that people won’t pay good money for our products if they were to realize that they’re being sold basic tools with lots of fluffy marketing. Anyway, to my point, what I should have said about the first emerging trend is that “it’s all about data.” Nice and simple. It’s about moving around, integrating and then surfacing all the data out on the web in ways that are easily consumable by Web surfers.
That brings me to the second trend I want to discuss. And while I’ll probably throw out a few fancy adjectives later, I’m going to start off simple this time…the second trend is “content.” Now, we can be semantic and argue that data and content are synonymous, and in many respects they are. But, when I refer to content, I’m referring to experience that generally takes the form of narrative. Popular forms of content on the Web these days are news, op-ed, blogs, wikis, collections of narrative art, etc. And while the Internet has always contained plenty of content, there are several subtle trends that are taking place that will shape the way content is consumed on the Web in the years to come.
Peer-Review – With lots of content now coming from non-professional organizations, the concept of peer-review, or having content evaluated by others who are of similar demographic to the author, will become increasingly important. Along with peer review of content will come better finding tools geared towards surfacing the most reliable and peer-approved content. Despite the fact that much, much more content will be available online in the very near future, I predict that systems of evaluation and assessment of content by the Internet community will evolve to the point where typical web surfers will rarely come across “bad” content (unreliable, uninteresting, etc), as it will be less likely to pass peer review and therefore less likely to surface through these new content-finding mechanisms. Technology, tools, and websites that promote filtering of content based on peer-review will become more and more prevalent.
Personalization/Targeting – With the advent of better tools to ensure that people tend to come across content that they are interested in and that is reliable, we will start to see the emergence of increased personalization on the Web. eCommerce sites like eBay and Amazon have been doing this for years, trying to bucket buyers into groups based on their previous buying history, their demographic, their search trends, etc., ultimately trying to steer them to products (content) that they are more likely to buy. With sites like Google, eBay, and Technorati collecting a tremendous amount of information about each and every one of their visitor’s content preferences, the ability for them to reliably determine their users’ intentions and preferences will become increasingly easy. And with better and easier ways of distributing data around the Web, it will become increasingly more common for smaller sites to partner with or license data from these big companies, allowing personalization to span larger segments of the Web than just single sites.
Portable Content – Much of the problem I have with online content is my lack of ability to move that content offline. For many people, newspapers, books, CDs, DVDs, and magazines are still the preferred method of receiving content because, not only do people like the experiential aspect of holding and owning a physical incarnation of their content, but they also prefer to consume their content in places other than whichever room happens to have the computer in it. With the number of online users who create and distribute online content growing exponentially, technology to move content from the online world to the offline world is starting to pick up pace. Through such products and technologies as eBooks, iTunes, and streaming video (and their associated hardware), Web-based companies are increasingly making content portable to the offline world where people generally prefer to consume the content.
Self-Publishing – Publishing content on the Web – whether it be books, music, art, film – is much cheaper than in the offline world, mostly due to reduced marketing and distribution costs. Writers can distribute their novels without large publishing houses; local garage bands don’t need to sign with a major label to get airtime for their music; and amateur film makers can distribute their works without expensive distribution media. Podcasting allows anyone to become their own radio host, and blogging allows anyone to become their own columnist. This trend will increase as better tools become available for the publication of content (Will Hsu recently had a discussion about the difference between 1.0 and 2.0 tools) and as high-speed Internet access becomes more commonplace.
Aggregation – As mentioned in my Web 4.0.1 post, the ability to move data around the Web will become increasingly easier and more common. With respect to content, the aggregation of data from multiple sources will become the de facto standard for content sites. Commerce, opinion, news, art, and other forms of content will be provided side-by-side to give users a rich entertainment experience.
Put it all together, and what you have is an abundance of low-cost, personalized, reliable and portable content that will rival traditional media outlets – newspapers, record labels, publishing houses, etc. All these things are good for the consumer, but what about the business behind content? How will the monetization of content evolve along with the Web?
I’ll discuss that in a future post as my next emerging trend…