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Power of the Digital Pen

Remember the days of high school English class or getting a big paper assignment in college? I do. I never minded the act of writing; I was the type that thought having a “pen pal” in some far off country was pretty cool. (Mine never wrote back). However the concept of getting an assignment that had to be ten double-space pages with a max of a one-inch margins or a paper that had to be exactly 1000 words always seemed daunting. I always waited until the last minute to do it that made the entire experience even more traumatic.

My personal favorite was from Mr. Hart’s AP English class: Describe your view through an imaginary window. I am still slightly aggravated with myself to this day, or I should say, perplexed, that I didn’t just think to look out of an actual window in my house and describe what I saw. Instead I sat at my desk with the worst writer’s block, tapping my pencil against the desk, painfully trying to force an imagined view into my head. What’s funny is I think back now to the trauma of it all and really can’t remember what I wrote; I think it had something to do with icicles.

So it is with that in mind that I often think about how much the web changed the written landscape. Think about how many writers and content producers beyond traditional media (you know, the people who loved writing and creating the stuff even back in high school).  Many of them are a direct result of the advent of the digital pen. Much of the content produced may not be Poe, Emerson, Rand or Shakespeare but it doesn’t need to be.  Clive Thompson has an essay called The New Literacy in the September issue of Wired that focuses on this phenomenon and also reflects on whether the “digital pen” is hurting the overall quality if writing.

People are creating some of the best content on the web today. Blogging enables thousands to produce incredible content across genres. Think about a well-thought blog post that you’ve read recently. Descriptive title, subject statement, number of paragraphs backing up an argument and some type of conclusion perhaps. That sure sounds a heck of a lot like the type of assignment many of us ran from.  And that doesn’t scratch the surface.  There is the micro-content world that Thompson touches on such as Twitter and Facebook.  Look at the extent of content, solid writing at that, taking place in the enterprise in the form of business plans, emails and PowerPoint presentations.

Content creation takes place us around us all the time.  Writing is getting churned out like crazy. The digital pen has enabled us to publish our thoughts in an easy way.  Even those of us who dreaded writing our view through an imaginary window could rail something out in 20 minutes without thinking twice. I find this truly amazing.

And guess what, how’s this for an essay?  519 words.  Knocked it out the iPhone on the train ride into the city this morning.  Wonder if Mr. Hart would approve?

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what once was is no longer

I always find this funny, and it quite related to some of my views regarding the Yahoo! situation a few days back. Here is an excerpt from today’s NYTimes, “Amid Hurdles at AOL, Chief of Its Parent Is Open To A Deal“:

AOL still enjoys many advantages that most companies can only dream about, from a prestigious brand name to an enormous revenue stream ($5.2 billion in 2007, down 33 percent from 2006). AOL’s Web sites attract 112 million visitors a month, and 9.3 million Americans still pay the company for Internet services.

I find it amazing at the difference businesses are viewed on their way up rather than down or hit maturity with no longer a steep growth curve. Granted I find that there a fundamental issues with the AOL business and there has been since the point where they missed the mark thinking $19.95/month was always going to be the path to perpetual greatness.

But, for a moment, think back to the time AOL was the media darling. When $1B, then $2B, then $3B (BILLION!) and so on made an online media company the place to be and was only sung praises. It is that oft imperceivable shift where you go from “a juggernaut, where will it stop” to “the pace of growth has slowed”.

(editor’s note: AOL’s advertising stream has slowed to 18% growth, I can think of a number of firms that pine for an 18% growth rate)

Print is back?

Not that it was ever gone, people often still like to read off the computer whether it be a newspaper, magazine, book or whitepaper (anyone try reading an entire research report online?, it is tough). And a patent filed in 1996 2006 [thanks to Bill at seobythesea for the correction] may not tell us one way or the other. But it is very interesting that Google has some very intriguing ideas for the space. Covered in Google Magazine?. My personal favorite for comprehensive coverage is from Dave Harry in his post, It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Google Personalized Publishing!

Anyway, think people have to get interested when you mix online/offline with content personalization and personalized advertising. As there have been some headway in the area for the Google engine hitting radio, the potential of redefining the level of control for users to get the content they want and the opportunity for advertisers to reach them is not too far of a stretch. It also ties back to the business Google is continuing to try to generate in the print ad business. And most interestings in my opinion, it does bring up a new twist to how print subscriptions and online business can emerge. The learnings that can be distilled in the online world and the rate learnings can occur (where all of the hype around Facebook is merited) could become a true disrupter.

As Greg Merkle joked today, “Time to go increase your toner supplies.” So as the holiday season is coming up, I’m sure HP would be ecstatic to have you add printer cartridges to your stocking stuffer list.