Today’s marketers love to talk about content and content marketing. They talk about implementing new and improved website content, video content, and sharing content via email, articles, white papers, blogs, infographics, and more. In fact, content marketing is the number one tool of choice to connect brands with today’s consumers. Aside from the creation and curation of all this content, there are two additional, very important aspects to consider: its distribution (a.k.a. the pipes or platforms) and its consumption — the way consumers are connecting with all this material.
It seems obvious that from a digital marketing standpoint, consumption/engagement (reading, viewing, clicking, or sharing) is a vital part of the content marketing process. If the consumer can’t receive or interact with the content, we might as well not have produced it at all. That’s why marketers must be aware of changes in how audiences are consuming content, due to the increase in types of devices that deliver it and where/how consumers are choosing to ingest it.
This fragmentation — among screens, devices, and platforms — started a few years ago with the advent of mobile phones and tablets. But in the past few months we have seen a dramatic increase in innovative technologies such as connected homes and wearable devices that are about to change the way we consume and engage with content dramatically.
The Evolution of Websites
Consider how website development and formats have changed since the introduction in 1999 of the Nokia 710, one of the first mobile phones to provide access to the Internet through the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). Through the years — with the rise of rise of tablets and today’s “mobile first” methodology — we’ve zoomed past static desktop design through HTML and Flash, to responsive design and mobile websites that can be optimally viewed and navigated on Apple and Android tablet operating systems and mobile phones. Toss in social media and the escalating development of apps by every type of company, and we see that the website as we know it may soon be obsolete — as other means to deliver content blossom.
I bring all this up now because over the past three months:
- I started to connect my home to the Internet
- I became a Google Glass explorer
- I tried a few smart watches
I have discovered that the number one thing these new platforms have in common is that they do not support traditional input or display formats — and therefore, require a different interface to deliver their content that moves beyond websites as we know them.
Input and Output
So what do I mean by this? As an example, let’s take Google Glass, which does not have a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen; just a small touchpad and voice recognition. Nor is there a strongly functional, usable browser. Also Google Glass is limited to about five lines of text before things get unreadable. However, you can access the Internet, text messages, images, and some video.
Smart watches are also just as limited, consisting mostly of apps that read data from specific Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Inputs are very limited and so is the output.
Now let’s look at the connected devices in your home; for example, your connected fridge. As with the other devices, it does not have a keyboard, mouse, or browser. Instead, it has a settings screen that is used to configure your options, such as the weather app. You enter in your zip code, then your refrigerator sends that zip code to the weather server and the weather server returns — what else? — your area’s weather report. Then the app in your fridge uses that textual info to display some clouds or sun.
There is no design involved coming from the weather service; all the images, design, and interpretations of data are done “on the” fridge, in the app. That means there is no user design involved.
So where does that lead us in 2014?
I believe it is the custom applications, developed to operate in a browser-less environment on a multitude of devices and appliances that will change the future of Web design in 2014 and shift the focus to APIs instead. Websites as we know them will become obsolete.
The Rise of the API = The Death of Website Standard
An API allows two computers or applications to talk to each other. A great example we all use is YouTube. You can watch YouTube content on many platforms, no matter if it’s on your home computer, a tablet, AppleTV, smartphone, or wearable technology. YouTube’s interface allows your application to communicate with its content. You can read more about APIs from a marketer’s point of view in a great article by Dan Cristo, Catalyst Marketing’s director of SEO innovation. Here are my predictions for what lies ahead.
- In 2014, brands will have to start focusing on APIs instead of new Web formats to deliver their content to a more fragmented audience, among more fragmented platforms. It is going to be the year when we wear little computers on our wrist or screens in front of our eyes, and surf the Web from our connected refrigerator.
If we look at the ways consumers connect with content on mobile devices today, most of that content is already consumed through apps (which are powered by APIs). We are already starting to see this more and more on the Web, as Google and Bing support Schema.org. This advanced markup standard allows us to add structured information, such as pricing, to any webpage. Other companies are beginning to extract structured information from Web content in order for it to be consumed on different devices. For example, YouTube and Hulu offer their content through a variety of apps, devices, and appliances in addition to their “traditional” websites.
- We will see an increase in the exchange of data from publishers into custom apps. I am sure you agree there will never be a user-friendly browser on a smartwatch or Google Glass; the hardware is not set up for it. This means that in order to stay connected to consumers, marketers must be able to push their content into those devices through other “pipes” such as custom apps.
- The implications and changes for search/online marketers will be drastic. With content being consumed on smaller screens and through other methods (read out loud, decision logic, etc.) changes in the traditional means of online advertising will be massive. If you have a tiny five-line screen (Google Glass) that shows one position per page of search results, the way search optimization and SEO is being done will change dramatically.
Without the ability to type in search queries, we will see a lot more voice search, which means that complex brand names and categories might actually suffer. (Believe me, I have a thick foreign accent and I had a very hard time searching for simple queries.) Also, traditional display and banner advertising will become less relevant on such devices. This is where cross-channel attribution and targeting becomes so important. If we can use the data we collected on someone’s wearable devices to deliver relevant content during a tablet or desktop experience, we will be able to leverage a lot more user information.
As for me, I am extremely excited about the changes and challenges this is going to bring to the industry. Unfortunately, there will be some old methods and technologies that will become outdated soon, and Web design as we know it may be one of them. However, as with all technological advances, this will be replaced by a new normal for the 21st century; we just don’t know yet where or how we’ll consume it!