Well here I am blogging in my pyjamas. Not literally, but metaphorically. Chillin'. Taking stock. Thinking about goals for next year. I've also been thinking about my Design for Data theory and while I've been doing that, a few posts elsewhere have attracted my attention...
First a "in a nutshell" re-cap of what Design for Data means to me:
- Living Data; content is alive!
- Momentum: it's about movement of data/content (in time); not places where data/content resides
- it's about the user being in control of their webfeeds
- DYI websites for the users
- the application of weblike design to data
- Information Flow
- Rip, Mix n' Burn; Re-using content
That's not a complete picture, but I'm getting there.
Branding and Web Experiences
Digital Web Magazine published an article last week entitled The End of Usability Culture, Redux. It argues that web design is about creating effective "web experiences" and one way to do this is to focus on branding more so than usability guidelines (especially from the much-maligned Jakob Nielsen). The author, Dirk Knemeyer, cites Starbucks as "the perfect model" for what he's talking about:
"Starbucks leveraged all of the traditional approaches for international franchised brand success that old generation companies like McDonald’s mastered, then took it to the next level by replacing the idea of a commodity product with one of premium experience."
The role of the web designer then would be to create this compelling user experience. As Dirk puts it: "design is about creating for people."
While it's an excellent article, it seems to me that Web Designers are still fixated on the idea of website as 'container' for the content. Branding to a Web Designer is still largely a visual exercise. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, because the Web as a 'place' won't be disappearing anytime soon.
However I also think RSS flow is creating a need for the data itself to be 'designed', not into HTML containers but into chunks of branded microcontent that will probably be XML. What I mean is: the data may not end up as HTML, so we have to figure out how to "brand" our data.
Associated Press & Atomized Content
Another excellent article recently was a speech by Tom Curley, head honcho of AP (Associated Press). There were a lot of great insights in this speech and one of the main ones was this:
"...content will be more important than its container in this next phase [of the Web]."
He talks about unlocking content from those containers and "consumption on demand" will drive this - in other words, the user is in control. Words such as "disintermediate" and "reaggregate" are thrown into the mix. This is what he says about branding:
"The implications for content providers are enormous. You cannot control the "containers" anymore. You have to let the content flow where the users want it to go, and attach your brand -- and maybe advertising and e-commerce -- to those free-flowing "atoms."
The Associated Press, in this context, might end up "branding" facts such as sports polls or rankings, not just stories and photos; The LA Times and other newspapers will have to compete for eyeballs well beyond the boundaries of their published front pages and Web sites."
Curley doesn't actually say how we're supposed to brand what he calls "atomized content", but he does say that RSS and search are two of the main ingredients.
Gillmor Gang & eBay
I also listened to an interesting edition of The Gillmor Gang (a regular podcast from the likes of Steve Gillmor, Jon Udell and Doc Searls). They interviewed my namesake Jeffrey McManus, who is a technical evangelist at eBay. Steve Gillmor was giving Jeffrey a grilling about RSS and "disintermediation" and so forth, and in response Jeffrey noted this about the eBay website:
"...at the end of the day, that's why people come to eBay - is to have a great experience..."
In other words, the website is still the place where users go for the eBay "experience".
Steve continued to press the matter, asking "what can't be done via api's [meaning off-site]". The object of the question being to find out if the eBay website was really necessary for users to do business with eBay. To which Jeffrey replied: sign-up, registration; bidding can't be done off-site [nb: I took rough notes only, so the quotes may be slightly off].
And Jeffrey later said: "It's our job to make eBay a compelling place to buy and sell stuff".
So what do I take from all that? Well it seems one of Web 2.0's leading companies still regards "place" (ie their website) as a critical part of their business model. That will please the web designers. Whether that will be the case in 5-10 years time is another matter...
Whither Design for Data?
I'll leave you with an Eric Rice post from today where he notes that his RSS traffic just passed his HTML views. My comment on that is: I don't think the RSS model is going to replace the HTML one. RSS and HTML do two different jobs. Currently it's true that branding via HTML is still the way to do business on the Web. Mainly because nobody has figured out how to effectively brand via RSS yet. And that's a business opportunity for Web 2.0.
One company to watch in this space is FeedBurner. I think they're onto something important with their RSS feed services (such as splicing and stats).
For now, as one of Eric's commenters notes, branding is still largely visual:
[from Mike D]"I don't know that you can really brand yourself through RSS. Visual stimulation is oh-so important to generating and keeping interest."
OK, but mark my words: soon there will be ways to brand yourself in RSS. It's being invented right now by smart companies like Feedburner.
Oh man, so much for blogging in my pyjamas! That was a bit full-on. If it's any consolation, it's now way past my bedtime :-) Almost time for me to get up in fact!