Monday, April 24, 2006

I screen, you screen

I screen, you screen, we all scream for more screens. Or, do we?

For years, researchers have tried all kinds of experiments to substitute good, old-fashioned ink on paper with some sort of electronic, pixellated, plasmatized gizmo that marries the readability and portability of print with the flexibility and timeliness of an interactive display.

The most recent variations on this long-running theme -- discussed yet again today in the New York Times -- even include a flexible e-newspaper that looks like a steam-rollered mousepad. It appears to be so pliable that a newsboy could roll it up, slip a rubberband around it and toss it under the bushes.

While it is heartening that newspaper folks increasingly recognize the need to compete with the interactive, mobile media, they need to stop trying to evolve their product into a unique, specialized instrument that requires its own power supply. Instead, they need to start putting news and advertising information onto the mobile platforms that people actually are willing to carry around.

As publications adapt to online and mobile presentation, they would be well advised to adapt their content to the native strengths of the medium in which they are to appear.

In revising its web site, the New York Times ditched its traditional long, gray lines of type in favor of short and colorful displays that billboard a number of articles and make navigation easy. Like many other major newspapers, the NYT is introducing video and other multimedia features.

At the other extreme of the continuum, Information Week, which ought to know better, is delivering a 96-page, PDF-style email containing an identical copy of its magazine, thus forcing readers to click through dozens of pages of slow-loading ads to squint at virtually unreadable text.

Remember what Louis Henri Sullivan, the father of the skyscraper, said back in the 19th Century? "Form ever follows function." Awfully good advice.