There were times when the newspaper was the only regular source of updated information. Information would be sourced by journalists, and editors would piece the information together in the form of articles, paginate them and make them available in printed format. The distributor would aim at the quickest distribution of the printed matter across the widest possible geographic region, which in the best cases would span across a country, or maybe a few at most.
Then came along the radio and television, which by means of wireless communication could extend the broadcaster’s reach beyond some boundaries. However, for the information consumer, the television meant expensive access to limited information, and for a long time there was little choice available to what he could choose to receive, until of course cable television came along.
When the internet came around, the information consumer finally had a choice. Search engines did have a major role to play in what information an internet user was accessing, and even today, search engines play a strong role in not only determining appropriate content for the user, they are also key in determining what content providers are putting up on the internet.
But there has been a subtle shift in the importance of search engines on the internet. What were gateways to the internet in yesteryear, such as Google and Yahoo!, have been replaced by social media sites like facebook, youtube and wikipedia. What is unique about these sites is that the content is not only provided by “media providers” but also recommended and reviewed by the community we belong to. What we like to read and communicate about among our family, friends and peers becomes naturally available to us, with use of some complex mathematical algorithms that social media websites use to bring people together.
And then let’s spice it up with some technology. During the past few years, the internet has increasingly started becoming personal. With devices like the iPad, users are now using content-centric applications to browse the web, and media providers like The New York Times have been quick to not only adapt to the change, but also provide readers content online in this unique manner, which is path-breaking.
We call it path-breaking because their newspaper now not only used the touted advantages of electronic media to reduce paper, they are circulating news and information globally, and also allowing people to share it via email, twitter and other social media platforms.
What appears like a snowball effect for The New York Times in terms of readership and user-base, actually has a trickle-down effect on other media providers as well. It spurs a movement in the news industry motivating news agencies such as Bloomberg and Associated Press to also have their apps hosted on the iTunes store, and this movement is restricted not only to the Americas, but also Europe and Asia. Le Figaro from France and Times of India from India deliver similar user experiences and push notifications and updates about latest happenings to mobile devices.
We haven’t even yet considered the distance Amazon.com has covered. From being known as an online retailer of books, Amazon.com soon became a larger online retailer popular for purchases of online music and electronic gear. But the innovation didn’t stop there. A few years ago Amazon.com launched the Kindle, a revolutionary device that uses cutting-edge e-ink technology to provide users with a unique experience of reading books and pdf documents. And the buck didn’t stop just there. Competition has pushed other devices to offer e-book readers and content services, and the Kindle has become more internet-savvy offering more connectivity for the user.
So where are we headed? From a point where readers were using libraries, newspapers, paperbacks, magazines and so on to update themselves, they are now able to access information on a liquid display which is real-time updated, and they are able to engage and interact with content providers to show they have power and they have choice. And this is only the beginning of the social media revolution. The real change is yet to come.