Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted today that print will be dead in ten years.

There will be no media consumption left in ten years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.

Ballmer is off by at least ten years since at least the first part of this is true today. Whether the final output is screen or paper, there is no significant media left that isn’t “delivered over an IP network”. Print as a fundamental distribution medium is already dead.

Information is produced in whatever format is most convenient to the producer, moved into a digital network (open or closed), and output in whatever format is most useful to the consumer. But the final output is far less important than the intermediate phases of aggregation and distribution which are already entirely digital.

On the other hand, print as an output format is not going to be gone in ten years. Some people prefer print. Some situations make print a better solution. Sometimes print is just fun (candles are still sold, after all). As long as any of those are true, some media will still be delivered to consumers in print.

But all of that information and media will pass through digital networks before delivery. It already does. Companies that are looking for opportunities in the death of print have missed the point that as the fundamental distribution medium, it’s already dead. The change isn’t coming 10 years from now, or five, or even tomorrow. It’s already here.

Newspapers or magazines will continue their decline. Print as a whole will become less common even for output. But the details of that rate of change are incidental to the fundamental change has already taken place. Any company waiting ten years for this has already missed the point.


Easy Letterhead

June 6, 2008

Ever since adding the ability to upload and print with your own letterhead, we regularly get users asking for suggestions on where to find letterhead templates. Web Worker Daily has an article dealing with just this issue. Included are links to services from HP, Microsoft, and more.

API Videos

June 4, 2008

Eric Lee of CounterPunch Software has posted some great videos on using the Postful API. Definitely worth checking out!

As you know, here at Postful we’re big on digital/physical integration. ReadWriteWeb has an interesting article on Nota’s offering of what they call C-Shirts. These are shirts with scannable codes allowing anyone to view, edit, and order a copy if they see someone wearing a shirt that they like.

The key to this is the ubiquity of QR (Quick Response) codes in Japan. Nearly all Japanese cell-phones are built to read these. Posters have them as links to more information, ads have them, even vending machines and, now, clothes have them.

In the US, various barcode formats and systems have tried to replicate this. In print, there have been efforts to create both custom readers (CueCat) and proprietary barcode standards.

The alternative has simply been to include a raw url. Lately, print vendors have been pushing PURLs (personal urls), mainly for use in direct mail. But the difference between briefly pointing your phone at an ad and copying down a url for later entry is huge. Looking at the Japanese mobile market, you see the difference that an established, consistent format makes.

But whether through QR, RFID, or some other technology, we can expect to see this trend continue to mature in Japan and expand elsewhere. In print (whether on paper or on clothing) the capability is already here. For other physical products, it won’t be long. For all of us, it will be another step to bringing together our physical and digital spaces.

For the last few decades, the “desktop” metaphor has dominated computing. We treat information like paper documents, software as pencils, pens, staplers, all designed to fit a single human hand. That metaphor is eroding as we move towards web-based systems. While no new metaphor has yet replaced the desktop, the best candidates seem clustered around the concept of conversations.

This change is obvious in much of the online world. It’s a cliché to refer to blogs as conversations. Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and others are really only definable in terms of these new metaphors (what precisely would constitute a Facebook document or a Twitter desktop?).

Even the humble word processing document is adjusting to these new concepts. With online office suites, multiple users can work at the same time, link data into dynamic sources, and connect to external tools and outputs. Its no longer about the pile of papers (which may be odd coming from a company which produces precisely that).
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