The Convergence of Media and Publishing

By Peek, Robin | Information Today, December 1999 | Go to article overview

The Convergence of Media and Publishing


Peek, Robin, Information Today


There aren't 500 channels on TV, but the Web is a different story ...

Do you remember the prediction that one day we would have 500 television channels? Nearly 10 years ago, in the first wave of Internet fever, the headlines promised this dizzying number of choices, and interactive television to boot. (I have no idea how they came up with the magic number of 500.) Yet, here we are on the verge of the year 2000, and if you're lucky you might get 100 channels through your cable system. Were the prophets wrong? Will we ever have 500 channels?

If you are looking at your cable connection for the answers to these questions, you are focusing on the wrong thing. Is the convergence of media and publishing happening--now--on Web sites near you? If you know where to look, yes it is. And, if you look in other places, you can observe the television-ing of the Web. All you have to do is follow the channels. Now, maybe it's just me, but I find this overlay of television onto the Web a little disconcerting.

When I first encountered "channels" at WebCrawler http://www.webcrawler.com), I panicked. Was "push" technology being resurrected? Fortunately, no. But with increasing frequency, "channels" are creeping into the lexicon of Webland. Even two of my favorite technology Web haunts (http://www.internet.com and http://www.zdnet.com) are embracing the channel concept. But are these offerings really channels? To me, they look like mere categories. Is the term "channel" supposed to make us feel safe because it reminds us of our old, faithful televisions? Or is this a prelude of the future convergence phenomenon?

Multimedia Deconstructed

If you know where to look, you can see a glimmer of what's ahead. Interactive television even exists today, sort of, but not on television. But then again, if it is not being shown on the television, is it still television? Or is it video? And is a radio show that is available only via computer still radio? Or is it just audio? Isn't what you're reading now just text? The dividing lines between the different formats initially caused the creation of separate industries. And perhaps libraries contributed to this division by their focus on more traditionally published works. But now the industries, which like the media and medium, are converging.

Perhaps part of the problem lies within our own heads. All oil us grew up with a clear notion of this thing called "publishing" and this other thing called "media" (or broadcast). For example, we consider the newspaper to be different from radio. When the Web converges the technologies, we may find it unsettling.

Separate Appliance Syndrome

Look around you. Which technologies that we use on a daily basis will work the same way at the end of the next century? Is it possible that your radio will be a quaint relic of a by gone era? Will your television set be considered a hopelessly simple, single-function machine? By the year 2100 (or sooner), will the appliances that populate our homes be on display in a museum, sharing space with typewriters and the telegraph? Now wait, you might say, somewhere out there, someone is typing his memoirs on a Remington and another person is receiving a telegram. Yes, and no doubt someone is also using a horse and carriage, but I wouldn't want to travel in one from New York to California.

The convergence--the unification of information and communication technologies--is already happening. Folks who visit the museum (virtually, perhaps) in 2100 will comment on the number of individual appliances people used to need. In a world of e-mail attachments and scanners, fax machines are future museum fodder. The cellular phone, handheld computer, and pager seem destined to merge into a single device. …

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