WeThink: Tabula Rasa DC Preview Thoughts

In advance of today’s Tabula Rasa DC event — WeMedia’s hyper-interactive discussion about how the iPad, and other tablet devices, will re-shape our media and technology landscape — I asked some uber-smart people to share their impressions and insights on the world post-iPad.  Several new essays will be released in the coming days/weeks, but for now, I want to preview one essay in particular by Fred McClimans.

Fred McClimans knows as well as anyone how people get/share information and what role technology can, and should, play in that effort. He is an Information, Technology and Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in developing information/analytical methodologies and content distribution systems for global markets.  In his WeThink essay, Fred explains how he “expected the iPad to be a phenomenal tool for getting news/analysis online.” But after visiting about 40+ different “media” sites, he isn’t convinced.

Here is an excerpt:

I’ve been waiting for Apple’s iPad for about 10 years, ever since the first real “tablet” PC prototypes began to hit the market, and I’ve been logging some serious time on it since it came out – enough to say that if AT&T retains its newly announced tiered data plan structure, I’ll be in the top 2% that will take advantage of the unlimited plan. Yes, I’m impressed with the iPad. Great book readers. Perfect for email and social media sites, not to mention web surfing and tons of cool apps (even though many of them are still suffering from Rev 1.0 Crashing Syndrome). And I’m sure I’ll be equally impressed with many of the coming Droid-based dPad’s and the Microsoft-based mPads that I’ll also buy, analyze and try to break.

What I really like about the iPad is the devices “concept” – it’s not a “touch-screen PC” or laptop replacement and is clearly not a “content creation” device, as evidenced by the fact that writing this piece on my 64Gig 3G unit – without an external keypad – is like watching my 2 yr old try to unlock my cell phone (slightly amusing at first, but ultimately annoying when he figures it out and starts deleting emails). Rather it’s a new breed of device with a form, fit and function radically different from its bigger brother (the Mac) and its smaller siblings (the iPhone/iTouch/iPod, etc.). While the iPad is not bad for email, taking notes, social media sites, etc., this device is clearly a “content delivery and consumption” device.

With this in mind, I expected the iPad to be a phenomenal tool for getting news/analysis online. But after visiting about 40+ different “media” sites, I realized that:

  • Most “news/analysis” sites have not yet figured out the iPad’s real function or how to present information in this new X by Y format, not to mention the internal inconsistencies that abound (such as sites that routinely mix Flash and non-Flash video on a page by page basis, or those that offer different page layouts based either by author or subject matter – a major turn-off),
  • The iPad highlighted differences between “blogs”, “analytic” and “journalistic” sites (Mashable, btw, still comes across as a blog, CNN as more of a newsy site, the WSJ as a clear journalistic site and the NYTimes as a hybrid split personality “not quite sure” site), and
  • Nobody has yet figured out how to appropriately use different media formats to best convey their news/information on the iPad (a great example being a five-page, text-only news story that I read – I don’t remember what the story was about but I do remember it made me feel like I was sitting on a runway tarmac for five hours without bottle of water).

Clearly there are issues with the iPad – and everyone seems quick to highlight them. But these issues are technical in nature and they will be solved (for example, fixed-size images work great on a laptop, but “tappable” thumbnails that expand are ideal for an iPad device).

But the most significant theme that kept coming to mind as I cruised from site to site involved the shortcomings of the individuals who were actually producing the online content – the editors and writers themselves! It wasn’t that their content was bad, but that more often than their “content creation” approach just didn’t match up to the UI (user interface), screen size and “application-oriented” potential of the iPad.

[More later]

Fred’s full essay will be available later this week, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, Fred will be at the Tabula Rasa DC event to share some his thoughts about the iPad, and help brainstorm a more effective use of tablet technology by folks in the content business (details about attending the event available here: http://trdc.eventbrite.com).

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