Interface design Mobile Projects

Content as Software

I recently worked on a large mobile project for the Volkskrant. The project contained mobile websites and numerous applications for different devices, including iPhone apps (iTunes link).

The Volkskrant on iPhone

Content as Software
I learned about the term content as software from Gerd Leonard. Not only does it sound very interesting, it’s also a very exiting development that follows from a series of events. A move from RSS, followed by widgets, API’s and standardization in platforms.

These new platforms like Adobe Air or the iPhone development platform make developing applications easier and accessible to a new and broader groups of developers.

On the other side software is being replaced by the – todays very powerful – browsers. Google is working hard to replace Microsoft Office functionality with Google Docs, and adding even more (web) functionality like working remotely together on documents.

A computer without internet connection is half the fun, or to most people useless. The computer as a communication device needs the web as much as it needs power. Todays software needs the web.

Should a media company make software?
Content as Software. Should media companies deliver content as software? We decided to with the Volkskrant iPhone application because we think an application gives a better user experience and is more effective on the iPhone platform compared to a mobile website. The New York Times released a desktop application based on Adobe Air. The content in the application isn’t unique, the presentation is.

A great advantage of distributing software for publishers is that it gives control to some extend. For example the Times Reader has free and subscription only articles in the same application. The “free” user experience is good, but they will try to persuade you to become a subscriber.

So, should a media company make software?
I don’t know. Just because we now can as easily develop software as we can develop websites doesn’t mean we should. From a pure logic perspective it doesn’t add much value to the content. It’s still the same content. From an emotional perspective it does add extra value to the experience, it’s a nice package. And that’s something you shouldn’t underestimate. An application is also more persistent, it’s always there on your startup screen, desktop or in your dock.

The best thing with content as software is to just try it. Like you would try with a website. Release soon and often. Todays software is like the web.

The Volkskrant on iPhone
Screenshots of the Volkskrant iPhone news application

Times Reader
Screenshot of Times Reader Desktop application

2 replies on “Content as Software”

Off course, media companies SHOULD make software. But they should not try to fit their generic content in as much channels as possible. Tailor your content to your medium. It’s useless to push complete articles through RSS feeds so people can ‘use’ the content on their mobile. It just doesn’t work that way.

So yes, companies should deliver their content as software (although I like to call it a channel, software sounds like a package, a one-time transaction), they should heavily invest in software, developers and designers, but they also need to make sure it’s in the right format; especially when the package is nice.

I agree, if you start using a new platform you should definitely try to use platform specific technology or rules.

On the other end, for existing media it doesn’t seem necessary to directly start using those platform specific features, those media seem to be able to rely on their name and content for at least short while. Most media are “just transporting content” and are doing pretty good on new platforms and markets.

I think a content producer/distributer should definitely think about, or use, platform specific features. For example if you’re developing an iPhone app you should think what those specific features can add to the user experience (for now or in the future).

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