Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Journalists invented the iPad in 1994

This video, which seems to have been kicking about since April (but I only just noticed recently) shows how digital publishing would look in the future, if you were looking at it from 1994.

And guess what? It looks uncannily like an iPad. (Yeah, showing PDFs and not something gorgeous like Flipboard. But please bear in mind that the heights of fashion in 1994 were Kangol hats, magic eye pictures, and playing air guitar to Cotton Eyed Joe.)

What I find amazing about the video is that journalists were part of the brainstorm that thought up the 'early iPad'. Thinking through the future of the consumption of content, the path was clear to them: Portable, flat, lightweight, easily-updated, interactive content on some kind of screen.

Back then, journalists were a critical part of decision making. They could step back and spot trends, and then they were the only ones who could share these trends with the wider world, through mass-media publishing. Nobody had blogs or Twitter, so we relied on information from journalists to make decisions. Without a commercial agenda, journalists would feed us information that meant the decisions we made were as objective and untainted as possible.

Nowadays, 'citizen journalism' has decentralised and demystified the task and made true journalism (dealing in things like 'facts' and 'analysis') much more difficult. Journalists are constantly 'scooped' by Twitter, and are having to go to crazy lengths to maintain our attention (like running into a Ladbrokes in mid-loot, hosting chat shows, or working for the Daily Mail).

As a result, they are losing their edge. Some are becoming sensationalist. Others have decided to give up altogether, and move into PR.

Nowadays, new ideas seem to be driven by technologists, commercial people, and designers. They all sit down in a room and brainstorm. And, as we have seen, what comes out is an iPad, except it's 20 years late.

My advice? Invite the journalists back into the conversation. Ask them what they think. Get them to lead the brainstorm. Fit the commercial model to their idea, rather than scrap the idea because there isn't an obvious route to sales.

Shiny Shiny quite rightly blames publishers for sticking with print, as they couldn't see a reason to monetize content in a way that didn't use paper.

Maybe if the money men had gone ahead with the idea anyway we'd all be rocking an iPad 10 and going on holiday to Mars by now.