This Tech Talk is a bit of a thought experiment. As I look at Internet portals (especially some of the Indian ones), I find that few of them actually use the emerging technologies to create a better user experience. Most of them are built on the same basic ideas that were prevalent in the mid-1990s when they were launched. Their legacy is now their biggest handicap. How can we imagine and build better portals looking ahead to the future?
Even as we seek to address this question, it is useful to try and understand some of the shifts that are taking place in the world of content. In a recent Business Standard column, I identified some of the defining characteristics of the next and new Internet:
Always-on: We are moving in India from a pay-per-use pricing model to a flat rate subscription model (in some cases, with download limits). But the instant availability of the Internet connection will fundamentally change the way we use the Internet everything now becomes a few clicks and a few seconds away.
Ubiquitous: As data networks envelop us, the Internet will become pervasive. Already, the presence of cellular networks provides computer users the ability to connect from anywhere. In the coming years, technologies like WiMax and mesh wireless will blanket much of urban and semi-urban India.
High-speed: The narrowband speeds that we are used to will give away to higher speeds as real broadband makes its way to the mainstream. The world wide wait will be a thing of the past. What this will do is encourage the use of more media-rich content.
On-demand: As connectivity improves, there will be little difference between online and offline. If it is out there, it is instantly available. This will lead to the rise of centralised services especially for business applications. We will have control over when we want entertainment delivered.
Multi-format: The computer will no longer be the only device accessing the Internet. Smartphones with wireless data networks will provide equally viable alternatives. This means that there will be two screen footprints that content providers will need to cater to.
Two-way: The growth of weblogs is a harbinger of the publish-subscribe Internet. Readers and surfers will have the ability to participate in the content creation process. Cellphones with cameras can turn device owners into content producers.
Personalised: The Internet will also become more individualised as websites (especially search engines and portals) build up increasingly sophisticated profiles based on what we do. This will enable highly targeted advertising.
Not Free: This new Internet will not be built around the free access model that we have been used to. The eyeballs-centric business model is a thing of the past. As we find content and services of value, we are more likely to start to pay for them.
To the above, I should also have added Multimedia. Jeremy Allaire puts it thus: Now that video can be produced cheaply and with reasonable production values, and now that it can be affordably distributed and perhaps even easily monetized, will we see an emerging new class of video site producers rather than classic textual content. In 1994 when the Web really emerged, it helped bring forth an explosion in the amount and richness of text that was produced and available globally. I believe we’re at the front-end of a very similar curve in video, and this world / opportunity is not going to look very much like how we as consumers find, acquire and view video today.
So, given the changing Internet platform, how can we think portals? In this series, I propose to look at one vertical Food, and how we can apply some of these emerging trends to create a more compelling and enriching user experience.
Tomorrow: Todays Food Portals