Directions: Digital Content Can Be More Intelligent
When new communications media emerge, the typical pattern has been to simply put old content into the new format. The filming of stage plays in early cinema or the reading of newspapers over the radio are two oft-cited examples.
However, I would argue that the most effective use of any medium is achieved only once the unique characteristics of that medium are fully grasped. This process takes time—but when the uniqueness of a medium are understood and exploited, a profound shift takes place.
Reporting On The Hindenburg
A shift also occurred in radio when broadcasters realized the medium could do more than transmit the voices of announcers in a studio and took the microphone out into the world. The live report from the site of the Hindenburg disaster demonstrated the powerful experience electronic media could provide.
Publishers who have traditionally focused on the delivery of books on paper are in the midst of a similar shift. While publishers are grateful for the additional revenue the ebook market contributes, most also acknowledge that they are essentially treating this new medium as the old: single book titles are sold in (digital) stores, and read on devices and applications designed to emulate the traditional book reading experience.
Book publishing today is analogous to early cinema. Today we have a new digital, mobile, connected medium but we have yet to discover how to fully exploit its unique capabilities for customers. One way that publishers (along with their development and distribution partners) can break new ground and create additional customer value is to harness the computing power available to them and make their content delivery offerings more intelligent.
The Connected-Mobile Platform
The digital media delivery platform that has emerged over the past five years has been empowered by:
- Mobile devices operated by the user with the ability to display a wide array of content types (textual, audio, video, etc.), run applications, collect and store data about content and user behavior, all with ubiquitous internet connectivity.
- Web services that a device connects to via the internet which enable the device to access media assets (images, video, ebooks) and provide application functionality to the device. Such web services include Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, Oyster, and Spotify.
The power of this delivery platform is woefully underutilized. A mobile device is, above all, a computer. In fact, processing capabilities of these devices are increasingly significant. The processing power of the Apple A7 chip used on the iPhone 5S was found on only the most bleeding-edge desktop machines ten years ago.
Web services are also built on arrays of computers (servers) with vast computational capabilities of their own, and which can add more relatively easily just by adding more servers.
Sadly, these computing resources are lying fallow today and are not employed to add value to digital content delivery. The mobile device is typically used only for display (which it does quite well) and for the storage of data (which it does relatively poorly). Web services in the world of digital publishing have few duties other than access control (password protection) and the storage and delivery of data.
So much more is possible. Computing power can generate significant value to the user by applying logic, or rules, to vast arrays of data to help the user reach a goal. The users' goals vary depending upon the specific offering. For example, the goal of a Google search is to find the most relevant search result. The goal of a shopper is to find the right product. The dizzying level of computational power in Google and Amazon's respective infrastructures allows these goals to be met with a surprisingly high level of success.
Bringing Horsepower to Publishing
Publishers and their distribution partners can tap the computing power of the connected-mobile platform in a variety of ways, depending upon the specific goals of each market segment:
Consumer/Trade: In the consumer marketplace, a key goal is to efficiently and elegantly connect the most relevant offering (book or service) to a customer. The art and science of presenting purchase suggestions is well recognized for both adding value and driving revenue. This is typically done through the real-time analysis of purchase history, browsing history, and the behavior of similar customers. This process will surely become more sophisticated as the data that drives these suggestions expands to include user analytics data (data based on reading behavior) as well as the user’s social media activity. The ability for systems to respond quickly to such vast data sets requires computing power by both the device and the web services.
Education: Learning technologists aspire to create a more efficient and more engaging learning experience through the delivery of educational content through services that can dynamically adapt delivery based on the mastery and performance data of the individual learner. Adaptive learning software applies a set of rules for the interpretation of data collected from the learner, and using metadata related to educational content, increases the likelihood that the most appropriate learning experience is presented. While much work needs to be done to make this vision reality, services such as Knewton, Aleks, and Lrnr have illustrated the promise of this approach and how the computing power of the platform can be harnessed to create value for users.
Professional Publishing: A user of professional reference content often seeks specific information to support their work. They need to identify information that is relevant, current, and referenceable as efficiently as possible. The problem is usually not too little information, but rather too much of it.
A connected mobile device is not limited to reading a single title, but has the capability of accessing huge arrays of content from web services. Publishers must support the competing priorities of providing access to vast arrays of content while at the same time creating a service that supports efficiencies. A delivery service that enables the user to find the most relevant information as efficiently as possible will add significant value.
Identifying relevance within a professional research service shares some goals with Google's approach to ranking search results. However, it can do so with greater specificity by also analyzing data pertaining to the user's industry, role, and organization.
When a computer-based system creates user experiences that are dynamically adaptive to the user, it is often referred to as exhibiting "intelligence." This unfortunately anthropomorphic term is probably as good a label as any to describe this characteristic. Intelligent delivery of digital media has been shown to drive such diverse success metrics as user engagement, subscriber retention, learning efficacy, and sales volume.
Publishers and their delivery partners who seek to take advantage of the untapped capabilities of the connected-mobile platform should explore ways that intelligent delivery can increase the value and effectiveness of their digital offerings. And where value and effectiveness lead, customers and revenue are not far behind.
Andrew Brenneman is founder of Finitiv. Finitiv enables book publishers to launch their own branded subscription services with PCSbeacon®, the turnkey, fully-hosted subscription platform for book collections.
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