Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Words are so 1995

In the midst of an excellent article on Facebook's purchase of Instagram, Paul Ford writes two paragraphs that will strike fear into the heart of any seasoned web editor:
It used to be that web people "published websites" — like the site you’re reading now. But today people who work on the web “manage products.” I'm not sure when that changed, but clearly a memo went around. At one time, in the nineties, everyone was a “webmaster,” then for a while they were “site editors” or “site managers” and now they're “product managers.” A website — even one as simple as Twitter — is no longer a singular thing; it’s a multitude of things from all over the place. 
See what happened? On the web, “product” has gone meta. Companies once made sleds or dreamcatchers or software, but that’s all outsourced; an Internet product is very often a thing that lets other people make things — a kind of metaproduct — and you can get 30 million people working for you, for free, if you do a good job of it.
If you've been paying attention even a little bit, you've seen the same thing happening. When I worked at Microsoft Game Studios I used to joke that the sites we produced were "post word" because -- with great effort -- we had transitioned from boring, ineffective, text-and-image articles to videos and multimedia presentations introduced with a bare minimum of text. That was the market: if you're promoting video games, and you're using a lot of words to do so, you're doing it wrong.

I'm in a different job now, but the experience is the same: articles perform poorly, videos do somewhat better, while photo galleries do the best of all. The visitors to your site are ready to give you perhaps 30 seconds of their time; if your stock in trade is words, you don't have many good options.

The very nature of communications is shifting in response, from words -- in email or face-to-face -- to tools like Twitter, Yammer, and Facebook. The job of communications professionals is now to drive adoption of platforms and engage in real-time dialogue, leaving precious little time for the careful word-crafting that used to be our stock in trade. These can be bewildering times for old school communicators, but if you're comfortable with change it also can be exhilarating. The possibilities are endless, and there's no guarantee that everything will turn out well, but at least it won't be boring.