Thursday, August 17, 2006

Even Automated Mainstream Media Can Suck

When I got this PC (well and Apple PC) it came with some special software for reading "magazines". Functionally it was pretty much the same as the Adobe Acrobat reader, except it kept tack of "magazines" that had been downloaded, it may have features I don't even use, but suffice it to say I'd just as soon get the PDF files, or links to them by e-mail and not have to worry about yet another format. Tux magazine is distributed that way, and when they go subscription next year I'll probably pay for them.

The issue is not pay or no-pay, the issue is the proliferation of specialized formats that don't add any value. More importantly, when I decided to try out this new magazine format they gave me a subscription to some Apple oriented magazine free for a year. I also found that I could sign on and fill out a short form and get e-week that way. The irony there being that by the time I get this spiffy new electronic e-Week in the special "maybe it will work next year and maybe it won't" format I have already read most of the articles via links to stories on the web. Web pages load a lot quicker, can be cut-and-pasted, or linked to in e-mail messages, and can be scrolled through a lot faster than the cute animated simulated page turning of the specialized reader. Most laughable is that they give you the choice of reading the magazine using your web browser, but if you choose that option, they simply use a browser plug-in to offer up the same lousy interface you were trying to avoid.

Like the automated phone story above we have to distinguish between technology that does something useful versus technology for technologies sake. I think, if anything, that is the "theme" of this blog. I love good technology. But I'd rather have no technology (as in go back to rooms full of phone operators or mailed-out magazines) than technology that pretends to do something useful and really doesn't.

Sadly, that last phrase describes a lot of what goes on with the Internet (let alone Web 2.0) today. for those of us who obsess about technology, we can hack (old use) our way though the thicket and find the useful things and ignore the rest. But for most people out there, who are not so obsessed, think about how much of their time we are wasting with these useless toys! I regularly apologize to people for my career choice, which I'm afraid put forth more feel-good technology than true innovation (sorry for using that word).

For more and more companies it seems, the issue is not whether their products are filling a need, but rather is their product filling a previously unoccupied space in the technology landscape. Not "does anyone need this?", but rather "is anyone already doing it?" Most sadly, in many cases if the answer to the latter question is "yes", the "innovator's" response is to tweak the idea in some superficial way to make it different.

Those are the thoughts that go through my mind when I see arguments over RSS feed formats, endless monologs (of which this is now one) over the purpose or value of blogging or various blogging tools. As an industry (a term I use more loosely than ever) I think we can do better.

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