Monday, 11 February 2008

Death of Magazines - Broader Deeper Coverage

Rick Nigol posted and reminded me of a post by Donald Clark - Training magaZZZZZZZZZZines. Both are lamenting about the fact that picking up any publication tends to cover roughly the same ground over and over. I have a similar feeling about the limited value of these publications for me and it's something that I mention at most presentations I ever do on eLearning 2.0. In particular, I say that since I've begun to shift my scanning behavior to blogs (scanning is how you stay up-to-speed on a topic) - my rapid fire skimming of blogs via a Skim Dive Skim approach has meant that magazines have mostly become pretty irrelevant to me. I will bring copies of magazines on a plane to flip through, but rarely do I read articles in any great depth. They simply are not worth my Limited Attention.

In other words, my scanning behavior has radically changed because of blogs (see Time Spent on Blogging, Personal Learning Strategies).

I also lump into this most of the activities at conferences (see Better Conferences). In fact, my limited attention has made me into a Session Hopper. It's much like skimming, but at a conference.

But Rick and Donald got me thinking that the reality is that Magazines and Conferences continually must aim at introductory, novice, overview level content. That appeals to the broadest audience. And somehow, ASTD conferences attract 50-75% newbies to ever conference. If you look at it, there is a relationship here:

Introductory / Novice Sources:
  • Conference Sessions
  • Training
  • Wikipedia
  • Magazines
What's common about these is that they are higher level coverage from a more trusted source, but they only go to a certain depth. And, yes, after you've gone through these for a while, they tend to be fairly repetitive.

Expert Sources:
  • Search
  • Blogs
  • Conversations with other experts
These sources tend to offer more depth along more narrow topics. Further, there is a tendency to involve other people in conversations to really explore the topic. The conversations can happen in all kinds of ways both online and offline.

The conference sessions I present on eLearning 2.0 and the articles I write on various topics (e.g., Learning and Networking With A Blog (T+D article)) have to be somewhat of an overview. You cannot assume that people come with a common understanding of a topic. And I would suggest that I normally focus on more advanced topics.

In Disruptive Changes in Learning, I point to how the long tail of learning is addressed through alternative sources...
  • Mainstream media -> YouTube
  • Mainstream press -> Blogs
And this has real impact when you see things like: InfoWorld Folds Print Magazine and you also see things like The Industry Standard coming back, but as an aggregator / prediction market.

It will be interesting to see what begins to happen to mainstream sources that chase large audiences. Can they survive with such broad coverage? Can they also add value for people looking for deeper content? I personally think there's an interesting aggregator role, but they may be made irrelevant by networked aggregation unless they get out in front today.

Certainly, for most experts, my guess is that they've lost much of their value and there are much better scanning sources.

Of course, this also relates to the same issues we face as developers of training. We currently focus on large audiences. We face much the same challenge as publishers and conference organizers. How do you pursue opportunity in the long tail?

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