The Power of Online Content, Offline

A busy Monday morning for technology and media. To start things off, the NY Times has announced a deal with Flipboard that will make their full content only available to subscribers while on that platform. And as a counterpoint to that move Conde Nast is now pulling full content from the New Yorker and Wired out of Flipboard in fear that it’s stealing eyes from the content on their own apps.

Back in October of 2010, when the read-it-later world started to take off, it was said this technology “could end up becoming the TiVo of the written Web – where users just grab what they want, store it away and watch it – ad free (i.e. without the distracting stuff) – on their portable devices whenever they wish.”

Then this past April, Mathew Ingram addressed the main issue this reading habit shift had created for publishers. The title and subtitle title say it all:

“Instapaper, Readability and monetizing other people’s content”
“Readers want to do this — publishers need to figure out how”

And then just a few weeks ago, News.me and Instapaper announced they’d be pushing content to your device for offline reading.

That brings us back to today and the Flipboard announcements. On one hand, a publisher (NY Times) is embracing the problem and partnering with an offline content service (Flipboard). On the other hand, a different publisher (Conde Nast) is pulling back what it offers to its offline readers in hopes that those readers will seek out the NYer and Wired products directly.

PROBLEM #1

Instapaper for me has become a service that can be summed up in one sentence:
For things I want to read and spend more than 15 seconds on, it gets them out of my broswer tabs and lets me go about my work-day.

And that’s the thing. I used to have a million tabs open. Well, I still do… and that’s why they all need to be related to the project(s) I’m currently working on. There’s just no room for all these other tabs that are from interesting looking links that I clicked on. My browsing process is… 1) work normally 2) keep an eye on twitter, etc and click on things that catch my interest 3) scan page to see if it’s actually interesting 4) scan page to see if i can digest it within 15 seconds 5) if not, then select READ LATER 6) go back to work.

Move it out of here and let me do it there. The option to read aggregated content later is a must have feature and it must span across publishers.

PROBLEM #2

For whatever reason, reading online content later seems to almost always take place in a location where I can’t get online. This is still an overlooked and undervalued feature but an important one. Problem one is that everyone is reading stuff from everything. For example, if I’ve got 10 links to read, at least 9 out of 10 are coming from a different publisher / source. When I do get around to reading these items, 9 times out of 10 I’m doing it in a place where internet access is unavailable. Subway / trains, planes, doctor’s offices, bathrooms, queuing in line for something… those are my Instapaper moments. Where time was once wasted inefficiently, I now look forward to these moments to catch up on the things I’ve flagged as interesting.

What makes the Twitter iOS/Android app so useful to me is that it’s always downloading new content. So when I step in to the subway, I can scroll back through the timeline and catch up. But that leads to what makes the Twitter app so frustrating for me. When I’m scrolling in an offline environment and find a tweet with a link to something I want to read, there’s no offline function to favorite it or save for later. It’s just off. Offline and useless.

SOLUTIONS

Media companies are always trying to figure out how to get content that people want in front of people before they know they want it.

Now, we the users – with the evolving way we are using technology – are adding another layer on to that challenge. Yes, we’re moving from a print to digital world (media companies are struggling enough to make that transition) and now publishers have to get that same content to their readers’ devices without readers even asking to download it!

I don’t think it’s realistic to say that wiring the world is an option. That’s a flying car dream to me. As what we do everyday becomes more tied to the internet, access to the internet cannot be counted on.

And so everything now has to be built to not just be responsive to mobile / tablets / etc, but it also needs to assume you’re going to be offline when your experience occurs.

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