The New York Times Co. last week announced the appointment of Michael Rogers as "futurist-in-residence," a first for the newspaper industry. The Times describes the new position as a one-year consultant appointment to work with the company's research and development unit. …
IWM: Will newspapers on paper disappear eventually?
Rogers: Not for a very long time. Paper is a high-resolution, high-contrast, unbreakable and extremely inexpensive display device. As the years go on, though, I think we may see more newspaper content delivered electronically and printed locally. However, we're within a few years of seeing some very effective electronic reading devices that finally do begin to challenge paper.
The new Times Reader, on a tablet PC, is already a pretty good experience. Spin that forward five years and you're starting to have a compelling alternative. Finally, in another decade, a substantial part of our audience will have grown up already doing much more of their reading on screen, and they're not likely to have the same emotional attachment to paper as does much of the current readership.
I don't need the NYT Reader — but I can see that if I were reading the NYT often enough, and it were a major source of news, analysis and opinion for me, then it could well be a different story. Would I use it if it were the Guardian Reader? Yes, I probably would: I'm hugely indebted to the Guardian for news, views and links and I feel a great allegiance to the brand. Put the current digital Guardian alongside the NYT Reader and that version of the online Guardian looks old and passé. Of course, it is a very different beast, and Guardian Unlimited NewsPoint is no equivalent, either. That leaves Guardian Unlimited news for mobiles (read about it here; more on Guardian mobile services here) — which doesn't run on an E70, yet. (In fact, I've recently unsubscribed from the digital Guardian: using it conveys the feel of being embroiled in something more like a library archival programme than of being at one of the online coalfaces of an exciting, national newspaper that is also read and followed internationally.)
But there's an interesting issue here. On if:book, Christine Boese writes:
You know, for the money the Times spent on this (and the experienced journalists the Times Group laid off this past year), I'd have thought the best use of resources for a big media company would be to develop a really KILLER RSS feed reader, one that finally gets over the usability threshold that keeps feed readers in "Blinking 12-land" for most casual Internet users.
I mean, I know there are a lot of good feed readers out there (I favor Bloglines myself), but have any of you tried to convert non-techie co-workers into using a feed reader lately? I can't for the LIFE of me figure out why there's so much resistance to something so purely wonderful and empowering, something I believe is clearly the killer app on par with the first Mosaic browser in 1993.
The Times Reader smartly (it’s a brand after all) incorporates the branding, styling of the print edition (e.g. typography, colors, overall look and feel). But that’s about the extent of it. Sections and articles are in columns and pages using new layout technology that scale and adapt to screen size and resolution – but that’s more about usability and making use of the entire screen rather than trying to replicate the paper medium. …
Usability and Design. This reader provides a much more usable and readable experience than today's alternatives. It’s a big claim but it’s backed up by usability studies. Users strongly prefer this model to the text presentation found in the current browsers for example. Users also retain more information and read for longer periods. Columns, ClearType, Pagination, Hyphenation, Seamless navigation, Zoomable layouts, etc all contribute to a highly readable, easy-to-use experience.
Interactivity. The app is still in beta and many more features are planned before its release but you can find a number of interactive features already. For example, you can comment (with ink or text) on text and share that with friends. The highlighted text is captured and the comment is recreated and rendered for others exactly as it was written. You can click on “topics” for any article and find related articles via the Search feature and “Topic Explorer”. You can peruse the news via Pictures /Photos or via the “What’s Read” feature. Stay tuned for more features. Feel free to make feature suggestions to the Times as well.
Also on if:book, in a post following Christine Boese's and picking up on her argument that re-creating a facsimile of a print newspaper online is 'just a kind of "horseless carriage" retrenchment', Ben Vershbow wonders, too, if this isn't to go backwards into the future. Most interesting bit in his post? This:
… are these proprietary, bound devices really going to replace newspapers? It seems doubtful when news consumption is such a multi-sourced affair these days (though to some extent that's an illusion). A device that allows readers to design their news menu seems more the ticket. Maybe the Times should be thinking more in terms of branded software than proprietary hardware. Make the best news reader on the web, prominently featuring Times content, but allowing users to customize their reading experience. Keep it open and plugged in. Let the Times be your gateway to more than just the Times.
Full info about the NYT Reader is available here. Currently, NYT Reader is Windows-only ('can be installed on any laptop, desktop, or tablet PC running Windows XP') and requires .NET 3.0. All OK for me, but … Mac users will want to read this post by Nick Bilton, Art Director at the NYT.
Finally, here's a quotation from Michael Rogers (IWM article) which I liked:
I think that being a futurist is in a way the last refuge of the generalist. You need to pull together all kinds of sociological, economic, technologic, anthropologic information into some kind of coherent whole. And finally, I'm not sure that the real value of a futurist is to predict the future -- the future is always going to surprise us in one way or another -- but rather to get others thinking about it in a creative and flexible way.