The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

In Eric Schmidt's 2015, the web is very, very fast

Via Rex, here’s Eric Schmidt’s vision of news in 2015:

It’s the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load.

Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests.

Two things: first, I just rewatched EPIC 2015 the other day and it’s still fun (and Matt’s narration is still, well, epic); second, the relative tameness of this vision means there are still big opportunities for other players to reinvent news—to participate in that reinvention. This is not gonna be Google’s game.

There is one thing worth noting in this op-ed. You’ll notice Schmidt hits the “magazine-like” metaphor several times. This is an idea you’re hearing a lot from GOOG lately. To paraphrase: You don’t have to wait for the pages of a magazine to load, right? Well, the web should be like that. When you click a link, or swipe your screen, the next page should simply be there.

Now, this vision of a zero-load-time web is actually pretty interesting. But is it truly transformational—the way, say, always-on broadband was transformational? I don’t know. What do you think?


I was struck by this section of the piece as well because it seems to me like his bold vision for 2015 is StumbleUpon reimplemented with better screen resolution, TypeKit and layout tools. StumbleUpon (if you have the toolbar in Firefox) already pre-caches your next stumble, so the experience of clicking on the “next” button is instantaneous.

I’m still pissed that eInk turned out to mean a single page on a slab that flashes to refresh every time you change pages. When WIRED first talked about the tech years ago, there was a clear vision in my mind. And actual book (the eInk is paper! It’s flexible) that had at least a magazine’s worth of pages that got rewritten that I could flip through. LIKE A MAGAZINE OR BOOK. Instead, we have digital chalk slates.

Part 2
Part 2
That said, truly instantaneous matters. One of the things that great about the iPhone is that scrolling is such that you feel like you are actually physically manipulating something. That makes it fun to use. When you hit the bits where it’s slow (like loading maps and trying to go straight to typing in your search but it’s hanging because it’s loading data) it alienates you a little from the tech. I think that’s important. Even now with always on broadband, sometimes things load slowly enough that I tab over to see what’s in another page and then by the time the page has loaded, I forget exactly what I was there for. Just for an instant, but that’s enough to break flow.

It is hard to enter into the state of flow on Internet Apps. It’s one of the huge problems with Google Wave so far. By being in a web browser you lose all the shortcuts you are used to and various parts of the interface don’t behave as I expect and it’s fiddly enough that it makes it impossible to just go in there and type. Even now I’m typing this in a regular text editor to paste into the snark comment box.

The Canadian equivalent of Barnes and Noble released an app for the iPhone called Shortcovers. It’s an ereader and it has page flip like Eucalyptus or Classics. Except that for one reason or another, it lags your finger. You feel like you are giving the program a command, where in Eucalyptus, you feel like you’re changing a page. This matters.

So yes, I grant a possibility that truly instantaneous page loads could be transformational in ways we don’t quite expect.

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I think that finally being able to do real typography and layout will matter even more. I mean it’s been how many years and there are still, what, 10 web-safe fonts? What a travesty!

That’s the other half of magazine-like that is maybe implied and that’s something I’d really like to see. It’s kind of a hard problem when you are trying to be all things to all screen sizes. Except. Except that if someone could start implementing on bigger screens the behaviour of the good mobile browers (such as Safari and presumably the one on Droid) with effortless zooming and panning and scrolling then we could start to see some good stuff. Different sizes, pullquotes and layouts matter. The visual queues that editors use to tell us which stories to bother with get lost on the web.

Remember in the photo synth demo when they showed non photo content with zoom in to see the fine print? We need that.

The new Time/Sports Illustrated digital magazine demo also seems promising.

I’m so torn on this.

On one hand, I absolutely agree. Going through the process of laying out my book in InDesign was such a good reminder: oh yes, right, THIS is what design looks like. THESE are the tools you’re supposed to have. There’s no question that font choices, layout decisions, etc. don’t just adorn or frame the content; they ARE the content in lots of important ways.

On the other hand: the web has done pretty well w/out these tools so far. I mean really, it has. And in fact, the trend-line — plotted by all of us, by our actual daily behavior — has been zooming AWAY from fancy page design. We don’t even like multiple columns anymore! We like a long river of text: a straight-down-the-page blog, a Twitter feed.

Now, I definitely WANT the first argument to be more compelling. Increasingly I can’t stand random content shrapnel. And yet, and yet. There are a lot of things we want, & the web doesn’t deliver them. There are a lot of things we want, and they lead us away from the real opportunities — the Googles and the Twitters.

I mean, I liked a lot of the ideas in that Sports Illustrated video demo, but I didn’t find it CONVINCING. It was too much like the old Apple Knowledge Navigator demo; too pat, too perfect. Too contained. Not enough chaos. I mean, I’m sure Time Inc. and others will go ahead and make products like that, and they will be cool; I just don’t think they’ll account for a particularly big slice of media consumption. “The elite and the elderly…” 😉

So what’s the synthesis? What’s the format that gives us our design arsenal back — but that ALSO recognizes the reality of the way people browse the web — that doesn’t try to turn back the clock and make an Interactive Magazine circa 1998? An open question. Although I think Pictory is a point along the path, and it’s interesting to see the ways in which it’s magazine-y and the ways in which it’s webby. I think it’s a much better model for the future than the SI video. Actually, I’m going to blog that right now.

Tim Carmody says…

One of the big tensions of the moment is between content creators who want their creations to be stable — screen-independent, platform-independent, solid objects — and content consumers who want to be able to scramble that content as they see fit.

Now this opposition doesn’t actually hold — there are plenty of consumers who WANT to consume a stable object, because they like media that seem like the product of a total design+content vision. And there are plenty of creators who are excited about the idea that their creations are live objects in the world, gathering points for re-creation and community.

But there’s definitely a tension between a static and a dynamic object. And generally, content providers/managers have an interest in keeping the objects static, and content repurposers have an interest in keeping it dynamic.

(Note that sleight-of-hand — it’s no longer creators, but publishers and rights managers, no longer consumers, but poachers who arbitrage content. There are sinister shadow analogues to every position in this spectrum.)

Booksquare had some good commentary on this recently. Essentially, some publishers are trying to rethink DRM, not as a way to prevent piracy, but as a way to preserve the through-designed integrity of a media object. An industry consultant told the assembled publishers “You must have DRM to guarantee that your content is used in the way you want. You retain control of use” – or something like that – to which Kasia at Booksquare retorted, “What happens when your content becomes my content?”

I’m going to take a long quote here, because I think this is a good insight:

[This is] the dirty little secret of digital media: I, the consumer, never really “own” what I buy. This colors my perception of the transaction, impacting everything from price to usage. I constantly weigh what I get against what I’m paying for it. I’m going to say it plain: this is not a bad thing as long it’s not forgotten.

In the traditional book transaction, author and publisher control over the book ends when I hand over my money for the book. All the hopes that content will be used in the manner the publisher and/or author envision are gone when I am handed a receipt by the cashier. I can do anything I want with the (print) book, including using it as a pillow (hat tip to Lawrence Lessig). I can lend it. Resell it. Make art from it. Rent it.

Digital is different. I know I say it a lot. I believe ebooks/digital are a wholly new market with new rules and regulations (maybe I should say markets?). This marketplace should not be treated nor expected to conform to business as usual. Yes, this poses challenges; it also creates opportunities. Porting the “book” mentality to digital limits the imagination.

But this analog/digital distinction doesn’t fully hold up either. Yes, I can do whatever I want to a book that I buy — but I can’t redesign it on the fly. Likewise, I can fold or lend or trash or cut pieces out of a magazine, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a through-designed object before I ever get it. And there’s virtually nothing I can do to make the document more dynamic, more networked.

In one sphere, I’m limited by the constraints of my contract with the content provider; in the other, I’m limited by the constraints of the physical world itself.

Jason Kottke’s post about Google’s new DNS and the importance of speed is worth linking to I think.

Marissa ran an experiment where Google increased the number of search results to thirty. Traffic and revenue from Google searchers in the experimental group dropped by 20%.

Ouch. Why? Why, when users had asked for this, did they seem to hate it?

After a bit of looking, Marissa explained that they found an uncontrolled variable. The page with 10 results took .4 seconds to generate. The page with 30 results took .9 seconds.

Half a second delay caused a 20% drop in traffic. Half a second delay killed user satisfaction.

So, wow. Instantaneous may very well be transformational.

Tim Carmody says…

Why isn’t there a kind of rich RSS that downloads whole webpages (images, videos, and all), precaches their links, and stores it all locally? That would be awfully close to instant — in most cases, you wouldn’t have to do a server call at all at the moment of reading. You’d have already downloaded it.

It’d be like the difference between watching The Daily Show in iTunes or watching it on Hulu. But for text-based-media on the web. Especially for subscription content – which is what a magazine is – this would be especially powerful.

Schmidt ought to take a look at before he starts talking about getting the world delivered “one story at a time.”

As Matt and a few others have been saying, in the future the atomic unit of news wont be the story. We’re talking context, living narratives, constantly evolving wikinews — all things that *require* the network.

Yes, I’m the dude who just had this open in his browser for two days so he could eventually come around to commenting on it.

The point that I’d like to make is that a zero-latency and zero-load time web is less impressive with a device as we typically think of it, ahem “wait for the pages of a magazine to load,” and more impressive with something like this. What Schmidt doesn’t allude to, and I think this is more because of the audience he was writing for and less because of his general intelligence and vision, is that the device that he’s going to have in his hand is going to be reacting in real-time to stimuli in the environment. It’s all about information. Devices get in the way of what we’re trying to do.

This is a seed for something bigger I can’t articulate yet. Btw, you should install subscribe to comments so that we can get email notifications of follow up comments 🙂


I think that your insight is right. Instantaneous (or near instantaneous) results make certain apps possible that weren’t before, much as broadband makes YouTube, Napster., and iTunes possible.

I’m reminded of Jakob Nielsen’s Powers of 10: Time Scales in User Experience post. Specifically the first three scales. 0.1 seconds and 1 second.

“0.1 second is the response time limit if you want users to feel like their actions are directly causing something to happen on the screen.”

“When the computer takes more than 0.1 second but less than 1 second to respond to your input, it feels like the computer is causing the result to appear.”

“More than 10 seconds, and you break the flow. Users will often leave the site rather than trying to regain the groove once they’ve started thinking about other things.”

So yeah, what happens when extremely rich metadata seems to always be “just there”.

Eep. This doesn’t bode well for any of the e-readers, which are all sort of embarrassingly slow. And that’s a domain where, like, the comparison to a book or magazine is not REMOTE; it’s obvious! It’s the standard.

I think what this really means is that the e-reader that gives us the speed we need is going to get a lot of love, and instantly make all the other devices seem stupidly lame in comparison. And gotta say, I think that e-reader is probably gonna be Apple’s.

Tim Carmody says…

Yeah, the biggest bummer for me from recent reviews of the Nook is that the Nook is SLOW. Slower even than the Kindle, it looks like.

Again, speed needs a faster processor, a better graphics chip, and more memory. All of those things pep up costs and drag down battery life.

Also, once you’ve got all of those things and a horking big screen, it makes no sense not to start putting photographs and video on there.

Which means, yes — it’ll be a multimedia device. Probably from Apple.

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