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Gates outlines vision of the future of news

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told newspaper executives today new software will take on-screen reading "to a whole new level" and pave the way for people to read most of their news online. He demonstrated that software and prototypes of what digital newspapers might look in the future during a speech at the annual convention of the Newspaper Association of America in Seattle.
(Disclaimer)

The prototypes showed editions of U.S. News & World Report and The New York Times that looked identical to their print versions, except that they were completely clickable and automatically reformated for different platforms, such as Tablet PCs and PDAs. Here are some excerpts from his speech that pertain to the future of news:

"The online business is one that I think still has some deep questions. Are people willing to pay a subscription in the same way that they've been willing to in the non-online world? I think that's critical and necessary, because technology will move more and more people to online reading. And it won't be possible to view online activity as simply incremental to the print based activity. In fact, online not only will cannibalize both newspaper and magazines, but also will become the key vehicle for attracting in many of the new generation of readers. So making sure that the advertising models and the subscription models are strong on the Internet is very important. There are some examples, whether it's the Journal, Miami Herald trying new things, where people are pushing out in that direction. And I think that's very important.

"We're seeing now that this is not just an issue about publications, even things like music and software are much more becoming subscription type offerings, as opposed to the physical box or disk offerings that they were in the past. So lots to be figured out here, including the technology that makes sure that the intellectual property is kept and protected in the right way.

"So we have technology that's providing this great potential, and yet there's some values in terms of the editorial richness, design, things like that, that are important to carry over. And there's also some efficiencies that can be achieved by taking on basically an all-digital approach. We have been tackling this issue of why is reading off the screen less attractive than reading off of paper. And the first document that moved to be digital was the encyclopedia. That's a document where the ability to be up to date, the ability to navigate, to have sound and pictures, and to be less expensive argued in its favor going back, say, four years ago. Today in the encyclopedia business, the online and DVD versions dominate over the print versions. The print has become largely a cash-capped business of selling the year books that it in the print format -- is not the key thing. Fortunately, the online format does allow the ongoing updating of that material in a far more accessible and less expensive form that was possible before.

"Well, how does that happen with other types of documents? The readability of the text, the resolution of the screen, and the ability to hold it in your hand. This idea that you can shift your gaze while you're doing immersive reading has turned out to be very critical. We, this year, with some of our Office products, will bring the quality of reading off the screen to a whole new level. Some of that is a very special technology we call Clear Type, some of it is simply learning exactly what the most comfortable display of the information is. So when people get electronic mail with an enclosure, less and less they'll be printing that out, and more and more they'll simply read that online. And if I take my readership habits over the last four years, they've shifted to where I read about 60 percent of information online versus on paper. So some things, like The Economist and other things, I read off of paper. But, something like the daily newspaper, including the Seattle Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal - because I like to have the information immediately available, and I like to comment and share with other people - I'm largely reading that online. Although, Sunday is the exception. On Sunday to some degree I read a little bit online, and a little bit off of the paper.

"So the readership habits are going to change. All the things that drive this are moving quickly. Just take the LCD that I talked about, the resolution will move up by about a factor of four for the same price they are today over the next three to five years. So that is not going to be something that holds things back"


Microsoft researcher Gregg Brown then gave a demonstration of a portable tablet PC the companys CLEAR TYPE software, which is designed to make reading on a computer screen easier.

BROWN:

"What I'd like to share with you today is a demonstration vehicle that we did in conjunction with the New Yorker, to investigate the technology requirements, business requirements and production requirements, to bringing a magazine onto the Tablet. And this is a magazine, so of course it's available online and offline. You'll be able to read it in an airplane, and in your home, or where you might have wireless. So I'd like to talk to you about the key issues for us in a magazine are, of course, readability and usability. Can you read it - because it's an immersive reading environment - how is it as a platform for advertising, and can we provide the tools and technologies to support rights management, support production, support delivery of this magazine that fits into a publisher's workflow, which is weekly, monthly, daily?

"Let me talk as a magazine, and as I said, the key thing for us is readability. So I can use my pen here to select an article, and we're working very hard on this text, and it's coming out very nicely. As Bill mentioned, the Clear Type, the technology we brought to bear, three-column, justified text, not a lot of rivers. These screens can make it look a little funky. But, I think it's quite readable even in the back of the room. It's a good environment for being able to get lost in a magazine, and being able to read it.

"Editorial photography can really pop on this platform: not just in color, but in black and white. But, of course, because it is a computer, we can deliver online or offline elements that you can't do easily in the paper, and provide some depth content, provide some access into other information that people might want to find out about it.

"Now, you may not realize, having read this whole article, who Billy Joel is. I mean, you may not be connecting Twila Tharp with Billy Joel, but it only takes a couple of bars of that message to know who Billy is. And now I've got to do a little something here to get rid of him.

"Now, say you're a big Billy Joel fan, and you decide to buy the tickets. The clear thing is we need to really engage now. So there's an opportunity for commerce. So of course, we can drive directly to the opportunity to buy tickets for that show off of the editorial. So a linkage between editorial and purchase is the e-commerce proposition. But this, I think, is a great platform for advertising in general. "Going Around Town" is a very popular feature, particularly of course in New York, and we can integrate into this magazine format, the reading format, partial page ads that really grab the user.

"Illustrations. Again, we can look through the excerpts of books, but if you come into an advertisement that appeals to you, it could drive directly to an online experience - if you're in an environment where you have wireless - drive directly into purchase products. We're also working on techniques to allow you to sort of partially purchase it, and come back when you're online again. So this direct advertising is, of course, a real strength of this kind of platform.

"But, I also believe that this is a really strong platform for pure brand advertising, for just making a statement about the brand, getting the pictures up in front of the public and allowing them to see impressions of your brand, what you're trying to say, over and over again. And we can do that with a classic repurposing all of the magazine's great ad campaigns. Then of course, there are things we can do - again, because it's an electronic platform - that you have a hard time doing in a paper base. And that's creating an integrated campaign that involves the newspaper, the magazine, billboards and television. And what we did here was work with Audi to re-purpose some of their television ads. "


GATES:

"XML has become very mainstream. All the Microsoft products are being built around this, and there's a way of connecting computers together, finding each other, exchanging XML, called XML Web Services. Why is this important to you? Well, it's important in terms of how your content gets organized so it can be repurposed in the maximum number of ways. It's important in terms of the operational efficiencies that you want to have in the newsroom. Whether it's handling a classified ad or handling editorials, the authoring tools for these things no longer require an IT department to be involved. The actual tools that the reporters, the managers are working with can understand XML.

"So, a lot of the technology that we're building for the broad market - it's not specialized particularly to the newsroom - has very deep applicability to the newsroom environment. I think we can finally say that all of the specialized systems and software that were very expensive in the newsroom, and sometimes the companies involved with those would do something very creative, but then go out of business, the need to be off of the mainstream, is completely gone at this point. The mainstream in terms of its layout and richness, and communications tools is adequate for even the demanding special requirements that exist in the newsroom.

"Now, let me move to the question of this online experience, and how distinctive can information be. And you've probably read that search engines like Google are basically synthesizing news pages and even local news type things by doing their kind of crawling. So that's kind of a threat that everything becomes monetized through that capability.

"And the fact that things look fairly generic on the screen is reinforcement of that. Here, of course, I've taken away, and I'll go and add back in the chrome on the sides, and add back in the name, that's Chicago Tribune. Here, again, with the chrome eliminated, it's kind of hard to see who it is. Now, of course, that you have the title, that's the New York Times. Again, another one that's predictable, that's the Washington Post. But the text portion doesn't have the same distinctive character that it does in print. Magazines the same thing, that's U.S. News and World Report, which in print, of course, you think of as being fairly distinct in how it tells you those things"


Microsoft researcher David Salesin then demonstrated what a magazine could look like on a computer using prototype publishing software Microsoft is developing.

DAVID SALESIN:

"What you see on your screen is how I would like US News & World Report to appear when I'm reading it on the Web. What you're seeing actually is a research prototype, and we've formatted an article in the style of US News & World Report for a Tablet PC-size screen. Now, you'll notice it has basically the same exact layout. You probably can't see this clearly, but the same layout as on the page. It has a drop cap, it has text that goes all the way across the page for the first two lines, and then it breaks into two columns format. Those lines of text are justified and flow around a central image. So, it looks just like in the magazine, and preserves all of the branding that you have there. It's also paginated, so I can run through the different pages, and I know just where to begin reading when I get to the next page. I don't have to scroll around and lose my page.

"Also, what's more is that I can adapt this to a different type screen. So now, for instance, I might want to take my Tablet PC and put it on its side, and read the article that way. Well, the article will automatically format. Now we have a three-column version of the article, but it keeps the same basic style, the same branding as in the Tablet PC in the portrait mode. Also, you might notice that the image has changed. So, here we're using a tall image, but the editors, presumably, made available another version of that image which the layout engine could choose if it would work better at this size. This is also paginated, so the same kind of thing.

"If we want to read it on a small palm-sized device, a PDA, well, it formats to that size device, and it also maintains the same kind of branding and appearance, and we can also do that in landscape mode as well. So, now we've got the same idea of one column of text across the top which breaks into two columns down below, a nice paginated reading experience, and so on.

"Also, full-sized screens we can do. And here, instead of just seeing white space on the side of the screen, because the magazine wasn't formatted to handle that, it sort of effortlessly has a nice format that fits on that larger size display.

"Okay. I want to show a little bit of how this is done, because the point that I want to get across is that this is easy for you to do. Basically, all you do is, you create once, just one time, a template, and then that template can be used again and again to make the content available week after week. So there's really no additional work beyond what you're already doing to put the content on the Web. So, here's just one story formatted in this style, and here's another story formatted in this style, here's another story formatted in this style. It's very simple to do this.

"Now, the other thing I want to show you is that these styles are actually continuously adaptive. I can move this template window around, and the template adapts in a continuous way. And what I haven't shown you already is that so does the story. So, you can adapt the whole thing to any screen size at all if you like.

"Now, to show you also this template is actually a live thing, let me go and edit it for you. So, I'm going to select this central element here, and I'll select the two rule lines that control its position. And I'm going to move it over to the left side. And, what's more, I'll make the image about half the column size. Now, I'll hit the S key, which will save this and then propagate it over to the actual layout on the left. Here it is. So you can see that I made an edit and it actually reflected in the style, and now this is reflected in all the articles I might want to show.

"Here's another example. This is The New Yorker magazine again, and one of the things that you'll notice, if I go to page three, to the end of the article, is that there's some blank space at the end of the article, and this is something that layout editors go to some pains to avoid by adding in little bits of artwork, and ads, and so on, in order to make the text come right to the very bottom of the page. We can do this automatically. So, here for illustration purposes, the illustration is fairly large, but you can see that if I page through the document, and now I've added these two little bits of artwork so that the text appears right to go to the bottom of the page. And just to show you this isn't like a canned thing completely, let me just make it some other arbitrary size here. Let's see, I don't know, let's say this size, arbitrary size, and I'll paginate it again. And hopefully it will be able to find some artwork that will make it go right to the bottom of the page.

"It always happens in a demo, doesn't it, that it won't work. Let me try one more time. Occasionally, the artwork may not be available, you know, to have it go just right to the bottom of the page.

"You wouldn't believe how many times I practiced it, and it worked every single one. OK. So here it's added this big image up here, and if we sort of page through you'll see then they added that image, and that made me go right to the bottom of the screen.

"All right. I'd like to close with one more demo that we put together, actually just for this crowd. Here is The New York Times, and here we have it formatted for the Tablet PC in portrait mode. I can also format it for a Tablet PC held the other way in landscape mode. And, again, it's continuously adapted, so I can resize this thing, and we see it adapting the article, adapting the number of columns, adapting the art work, all the way down to two columns, or all the way up to a full screen experience. If I hit the Enter key, it will go full, full screen. And so the idea is, this is how I want to read my newspaper every morning. I want to see it formatted for whatever device I happen to be looking at. Also, a nice thing about doing this with the computer is that if I want I can change the font size. So for someone who has a little difficulty reading you can make it larger, or larger still, or even if you don't have difficulty reading it, if you're in a darkened room or something, it's handy to be able to make the font size larger or small again.

"So in summary, there are a lot of different devices these days that you might want to read your newspapers and magazines on, all the way from cell phones, to PDAs, to Tablet PCs, to laptops, to desktops, your wall size displays. And the technology we're working on provides the ability to maintain your branding on all these different size displays, and everything in-between, and to deliver it at no extra cost to you beyond what you're already paying to put the content on the Web."


GATES:

"The theme for today is that we see the online newspaper as one where it takes all the strengths, the editorial strength, the visual strength of the paper-base, and then adds in new capabilities, whether that's the linking, interaction with the reader, a lot of the things that we've pioneered with Slate, and other people have pioneered, shows that the online publication can have some very unique features. And it's that combination along with the brand that maintains the strength that the traditional paper has always had.

"Now, the whole process of gathering the news should be improved, as well. You know, in particular, say you want that audio interview to be up on the Web site, to go with the article itself, but you don't want to have audio specialists going along with your newspaper reporters. In fact, in the future you'd like that reporter to be able to gather the images, the text, the audio, all of those things in a very efficient fashion. And so the newsroom and the reporters are another good example of what we call a big knowledge worker challenge, how do you get and share information, particularly where the deadlines are very tight, how do you coordinate those activities, and what can the devices look like to work in a more agile way?

"We'll have these pocket-sized devices, the evolution of what's the phone or the PDA today. Those have been separate devices, but those will come together. And on that device, things like having your calendar, seeing alerts, being able to filter out the things that are important to you, that technology will be there. Not a very good reading or note taking device, and so that's where the Tablet device comes in. And those two things need to work together in a very deep fashion. And so, unlike the way some people position this, where phones are competing with PCs, it's quite the opposite. There are really good scenarios where these things work together. For example, somebody in a remote bureau calls up an editor, you should be able to bring the article up on both those screens and sit and talk, and edit together in a simple fashion. And so most phone calls will not just be voice, they'll be voice plus screen, talking to somebody about what their ad is going to look like, that will be voice plus screen, where you can bring up the ad, talk about it, talk about the placement, and have more than just that voice conversation.

"So the way that knowledge workers everywhere do their job, we see is going to be very different. If you have an editorial meeting, you want to record that digitally, so that somebody in a remote site can go back and search that, or listen to that, that will become so inexpensive and so easy, and automatic, that the idea of archived digital meetings will just be common sense.

"In terms of your business, we do think that in a very measured way, you know, not like some people would have thought in the heyday, there's no overnight change taking place, but there's a gradual change, and an important change that embracing digital approaches can help you view those as an opportunity. The processes inside the newsroom, the way that you collaborate with other organizations using these XML approaches, the way that the individual reporters do their job, and the experience you create for users, we're going to be navigating, for the foreseeable future they'll be using online in some cases, and using the offline in other cases."

Apr 29, 2003 | E-MAIL | SAVE | PRINT | PERMALINK | DISCUSS(1)



Discussion

1 comments about 'Gates outlines vision of the future of news'

Is it possible do "see" this new format of papers and magazines presented in the text. Peharps in an internet site or sent by e-mail?

Zanei Barcellos

Posted by Zanei Barcellos at May 2, 2003 1:11 PM



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