Tiny Web

[March 12, 2011]

In my previous post, I talked about the interplay between content and context as it pertains to content distribution theory. I concluded that an anchoring Web site was essential—if content was to retain its brand identity in a variety of contrasting environments.

Yet, the more I think about the future of digital content development and distribution, the more I realize the definition of “Web site” must also evolve. As programmers continue to discover new possibilities, I believe it’s time we re-imagine the digital experience from the ground up.

Now, given the increased flexibility and mutability to come with the full rollout of HTML5 in 2014, you might think I’m calling for a flashier, richer integration of social networking, entertainment-engagement strategy and branded merchandising on the Amazon.com up-sell model.

But rather than envision a grand, neo-Wagnerian media synthesis, I think the best thing emerging technologies might do is make the Web tinier.

Discrete. Focused. Fast.
My train of thought begins with a simple observation about social space. While brands value social space for its potential to generate tight-knit communities of brand advocates, there’s another factor contributing to its impact: Each unit of input into social space is discrete, focused.

It’s a photo of your dog in a Hallowe’en costume; it’s 140 characters of irony; it’s your current location piped in from your phone, or your latest remix of Machu Pichu dubbed into scenes from The Last Airbender.

It is, in other words, one thing at a time: a single, focused point of engagement.

With that in mind, imagine a home page consisting only of a branded menu. To be clear, this menu would appear in a browser very different from any available now. My imaginary, “Tiny Web” browser would function more like a light box or, in a general way, like an old-fashioned, carousel slide projector.

If the menu topic was diabetes, you might select a diagnosis link and call up a limited number of separate content modules devoted to diabetes diagnosis. For example:

• an expert video
• an interactive risk assessor
• a search tool for specialists in your area

The menu would fade out to a holding area and the modules you chose would appear on your monitor, side by side. You’d view each one at a time, and the focus of the display would shift as you moved from one to the other. Having experienced these modules, you could re-engage the menu and move on.

Now imagine a similar makeover of BestBuy.com. Of course, BestBuy already offers rudimentary content sorting and selection. You can, for example, visit a camera page or a computer page. But you can only call up one at a time.

In this new digital environment, you could place a camera module and a computer module side by side. Plus, each module could be split into sub-modules—like a camera comparison chart, an expert video from Photographytv.tv, or a direct feed from several manufacturer’s Facebook pages. Get bored with cameras, and you could switch focus to computers or any other BestBuy module without losing your camera selections.

Obviously, a similar vision must have inspired tabbed browsing. But as Web technology becomes faster, more agile and more touchable, tabbed browsers—along with Safari’s Top Sites view, or link-sorting tools like pearltrees.com—start to feel like stopgaps. So what would a reformatted Web model look like, feel like?

An out-of-screen experience.
For starters, it’s time we stopped thinking in screens. The screen, after all, dates back at least as far as the centuries-old shadow-puppet scrims of Indonesia, China, Thailand or Malaysia. It’s a display mode for unfolding linear narratives. As such, our screen-based approach clashes with the inherently non-linear, dynamic, multidimensional nature of digital space.

By contrast, a screen-free, Tiny Web experience would enable users to live in the moment. No longer boxed in by bulky Web pages, they would find it easier to absorb content in any medium. Naturally, this out-of-screen experience makes even more sense for smartphone access.

Sites unseen.
Now imagine an utterly site-free environment. Users would call up stacks of content blocks from any number of sources and collect them within a brand-neutral digital frame. By cross-linking these stacks, people could create a customized network, a tiny web to serve their ever-changing interests.

Should the idea of “stateless” content conflict with your concept of branded communication, keep in mind the impact a carefully conceived menu could have. Of course, as a home base for branded imagery, voice, culture and environment, it would need to make a much more direct emotional connection than many a conventional home page today.

It would be the end of mechanical, logo + tagline + headline structure. As we’d soon realize, the ability of each menu page to brand itself in an emotionally compelling way would determine the level of audience engagement in our branded content.

The freedom to reframe.
Yet the promise of Tiny Web is really about freedom and choice, two things consumers constantly crave and rarely get from brands. By allowing users to see only the content they want—whether one lone text block or a baroque garden of different media formats—you’d give them the peace of mind they need to hear your message at their own pace, retain it and act on it.

And all because, at last, they had the freedom to receive your message in the context of a frame of reference they had chosen for themselves.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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