by David LeMieux
There is a lot of new data generated every moment. Most of which isn't actually that interesting, at least not on its own. As the world, or at least parts of the world, continues to be more connected the constant flow of this new information drives innovation in terms of how to organize and consume or even ignore it. How we digest this content, create it, and the tools that help us do both are ever changing and there is a new pattern emerging that points to a different style of data management.
Compartmentalization has benefits, but there aren't great jumping off points.
In college I had used bookmarks to keep track of all the different sites I wanted to check on a regular basis. I would open the pages one by one (and soon after, tab by tab) in a browser and read through the latest articles. Some friends had blogs, those were in the list. Each item was an individual link going to a new compartment of information.
At some point Firefox introduced Live Bookmarks - A bookmark folder that pointed at a RSS/Atom/XML feed and would just show the latest articles as though they were regular bookmarks. It was about this time that the flow changed. Instead of individual, unique jumping off points there was a place to go to see part of the stream and start from there. Then came Google Reader. Reader allowed users to follow any number of feeds and lists and served as a central jumping off point for discovering and following all sorts of data.
Unfortunately Google sunset Reader. There are other services that do nearly identically the same thing, but they aren't quite the same. Because of this (and, I must pause for a moment to mention that Facebook, Twitter, and other popular apps have changed the landscape of how and where people put new information) we have returned to what feels like the bookmarks of before. While there are aggregation services still around, most people turn on their phone then find the app they want to open and start there. The home screen in the new bookmarks bar.
Technology has a constant drumbeat that makes it march ever forward and now is no exception. There are already signs that things are changing. Flipboard, already several years old, is like a content aggregator but also creates a unique layout - making the new content even easier to digest. I am not sure, however, that this isn't just a stopgap. That maybe Flipboard is a bit too Reader-esque and not enough of the thing of the future. An interesting article titled The End of Apps As We Know Them points to that the way we use our apps is changing. We are moving away from the bookmark-style launch screens and more toward interactive notifications and in-the-moment, contextual information processing. Google Now is the current best example of this - showing you information at the time you need it. The newest part of that idea, though, is the shift away from content consumption ("Your flight has been delayed") to content creation and data entry.
Auto updating/formatting of content in the moment.
Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms allow for content creation and sharing in many diverse and easy to use ways and these services will continue to be a part of the new flow. Added to them (or, perhaps, as part of them) will be new kinds of content and data entry. Wearables will allow collection of personal activity data. Phones and beacon/checkpoint technology will give better locational awareness. These ideas certainly aren't new, but the emerging patterns of design and interaction seem to suggest they will become more prominent than they are now. With all this data, though, who will take the time to organize it and make it presentable? The answer is that the computers will do it for us. We can already see how some content streams, like Facebook's, auto filter and layout the things we post on our behalf. Newer technologies like The Grid even claim to be able to do it for freeform, personal content so that a user doesn't even have to think about how new content fits in to their website.
Instead of templates, The Grid talks about applying layout filters. This combination of content filters applied to a layout filter points to a world in which you could just go about your life, maybe take some pictures and then very easily manage who sees what and when and where but with none of the current friction in doing do. It also means that we may be able to move away from some of the walled gardens of the day, but it could also mean the opposite. This kind of easy flow sometimes only works when every part is from the same system.
Handoff and Context switching
Another part of this will be removing the need to think about which device you are using. There is already evidence that this will be a solved problem soon. Apple's own continuity product is a step in this direction.
For the first time in a long time I had the thought that what I currently do as a living, web software engineering, might be taken over by robots. Sure, someone has to tell the robots what to do, but for how long? How long until the steam of data, the flow of information, organizes itself? How many people have personal blog compared to how many users use Facebook? I'm sure some Facebook users would love to customize the look and feel of their feed, but mostly people are content that the feed exists at all. I also wouldn't want to even suggest that a machine could learn "what is design" or "what is art" but they are certainly going to try.
Ads are probably over
In Peak Ads the data suggests that people care less and less about traditional advertising and that advertisers are going to need to find different ways of presenting their sales pitches. Things like native advertising figure in to this. I am not so sure that will last. The Internet is going to move to a non-ad-supported model and it is going to be interesting to watch. I have no idea how any of this new flow of data will be monetized, but I hope it is with people paying money or by the system becoming so cheap that it can run itself. Or become a utility. Who knows. I don't think Internet advertising will be around in a recognizable form, though. That could just be wishful thinking.
I am not an expert in any of this. In fact, a real expert may be reading this and thinking "What a naive, uninformed bunch of grammatically incorrect nonsense." I still think something similar is on the horizon and I am eager to see what happens.