BitDepth#832 - May 01

Mobile broadband + tablet PCs and smartphones make for a very different landscape for local media.
A media unready
Flud, running here on Android, is one of a new breed of user-friendly newsreaders that put popular bloggers on an equal footing with traditional media for the news consumer’s attention.
Image courtesy Flud.

By the end of this year, true mobile broadband will be widely available for any mobile device capable of accessing it. The introduction of this service, announced by TSTT and anticipated from Digicel, will mark an end to a decades’ worth of agonisingly slow handset data connections that harken back to the Internet speeds of 1995.

Every aspect of current mobile data connectivity has been based on bandwidth scarcity in an online world that has now engineered every significant activity, from browsing websites to viewing content, on a data connection that’s at least 256kbps, the bottom end of what’s considered to be a broadband data connection.

I’ve got a TSTT GPRS/EDGE connection that’s consistently been more GPRS than EDGE in the two years that I’ve been using it. It allows me to view Instapaper text archives of websites I’d been meaning to read, view Twitter streams after a long wait and view Facebook chats after an even longer wait. E-mail trickles in, but viewing a website is simply out of the question.

Programmers hoping to deliver locally built apps for these mobile phones have had to build everything into the installed data on the phone and use a thin stream of data for updating information to avoid user meltdowns.
All of that is going to change quite soon. Faster mobile connections will be a boon for online developers hungry to delivery all the flashy app goodness that we’ve long envied in marketing and entertainment overseas.

It will also usher in the biggest fundamental change in the local media landscape since Alwin Chow shoved all the Guardian’s old green phosphor Microtec word processors into a backroom and forced everyone who worked here to use early desktop publishing systems.
“The system,” as it was called back then, was a horrible experience for almost everyone working at the paper, except the new people that Chow hired to make it work.

It was the first real world incarnation of a digital future that the Guardian’s staff had ever seen, and it was an ugly, confusing, constantly changing expression of the modern world.
That time of change is upon us again and local media is again unready.

Once handsets access the Internet at acceptable speeds, the first thing to multiply will be our consumption. We’re going to view more, listen to more and even read more Internet accessible content and consumers will inexorably favour content that’s focused on and tailored for the mobile experience.
The first push, then, is going to be on recreating existing website and online experiences so that they can be viewed in the tiny window of a mobile phone. That won’t be as hard as it used to be. Today’s responsive themes for content management driven websites can make that the work of days, not months.

It isn’t so clear how the traditional media outlets will respond to the next distribution amplification, when people realise that gathering and sharing information, a process already embraced with enthusiasm and often blunt agendas by a growing group of citizens, is much easier on a mobile broadband connection.

What’s been happening over the last three years has been impressive. There are skeins of enthusiastically shared communications running through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and even within newspaper comments that run in parallel with traditional news reporting, but there are some newer isolated branches that thrive on their own.

Some of these discussions (let’s just call them that) leak into traditional media, often long after they have run their course online, but many never make the jump.
The real challenge that traditional media will face is not faster mobile broadband connections or an explosion of citizen journalism, it’s holding on to relevance, as news zips about on its own digitally enabled timelines, tied to no publication deadlines or broadcast schedules.

What happens when reporting the news becomes telling people what they already know? The answers to these inevitable changes in the way we consume news will be daunting for media information gatekeepers.
Media houses will be challenged to become more engaged with their audiences, reporting from inside the melee rather than from the remove of the press box.

Reports will demand the command and authority of true journalism, expanding, explaining and informing with a richness that’s outside the realm of a street-level op-ed.
Online content will need to become more expansive and more engaging that the shovelware that’s got us this far, enriching the understanding of those who continue to engage with us as sources of information.

Those who choose to respond to these realities, now just months away, will be rewarded by the only gift a mass audience can offer, their attention.
Media houses that fail to plug into these new digital newsstands risk losing the imprimatur of being first movers to the handset.

BitDepth#836 on what Digicel should do next.
My early experiences with Digicel's new 4G mobile broadband service.
An opinion piece for Contact Magazine, written in November 2011,
that predicted the mobile broadband changes of 2012.
brash announcement of their plans for a HSPA+ mobile broadband network.
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