On the Road to Improved Information Experiences

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Whether it's on a desktop monitor or a tiny mobile screen, "information experience" is the moment when the user experience and information-intensive applications meet. Over the past few years, as the volume of structured and unstructured data within organizations has exploded and the channels on which that information is consumed has diversified, content consumers have been revising their expectations for what qualifies as an acceptable information experience.

Joe Gustafson, chief executive officer of Brainshark, which provides a web-based platform that allows users to create on-demand multimedia presentations, says, "These days workers are equipped with a multitude of devices; you come to work with your own smartphone and maybe a tablet computer. Companies have to figure out how to communicate with you." Brigitte Ricou-Bellan, vice president and managing director at Dow Jones, agrees, saying, "Users are influenced by consumer devices and web-based experiences. They want simplicity, no training required."

Most vendors would agree the facets of an effective user information experience include simplicity, speediness, flexibility, and accuracy. The Google User Experience team, for example, says its goal is to create designs that are "useful, fast, simple, engaging, innovative, universal, profitable, beautiful, trustworthy, and personable."

While the basic principles are evergreen, there are a number of environmental changes that affect how solution providers deliver products and platforms that provide a positive information interaction. Among the influences driving major change is the accelerated adoption of mobile computing; a desire to offer a more interactive, engaging experience for the end user; the ability to customize the user experience; and a need for tools that integrate with workflow in order to maximize productivity in a time of tight budgets.

Readers Going Mobile

It's no surprise that one of the major requirements with which publishers are contending is the user's desire to consume information on the move and across channels that didn't even exist 3 years ago. "The dynamics of business communication are shifting," say Gustafson. "Conversations that took place 10 years ago via face-to-face interaction requiring travel, or via phone, now happen via WebEx, video conferencing, and social media."

With regard to devices, an October 2010 report from Gartner, Inc. found that media tablets are poised for strong growth, with worldwide end-user sales projected to total 54.8 million units in 2011, up 181% from 2010, and to possibly surpass 208 million units in 2014. As enterprises figure out the role that powerful tablets can play in their organizations, consumers are already shifting consumption habits; a March 2011 "State of the News Media" report from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that nearly half of Americans get some form of news on a mobile device.

So making content flow across platforms is a key means to improving information experience. That may mean thinking about content differently. Jeanniey Mullen, global executive vice president of Zinio, which offers a "buy once, read anywhere" digital distribution network for publishers, says, "Users move to mobile reading for three reasons: convenience, content, and enhanced interactivity." The arrival of fully featured tablet computers ups the ante for end users, who have little patience with device-specific presentations that are simply static digital interpretations of print.

Magazines on the Zinio for iPad application, for instance, can incorporate video and audio extras, interactive maps, quizzes, and social sharing aspects such as bookmarking, clipping, and sharing. While the consumer world is adapting to this quickly-Mullen reports that People and Us Weekly are the top sellers via the Zinio for iPad app-the trend is impacting the enterprise world as well.

"I can't even bear to refer to it as mobile, because it's so much more than that," says Ricou-Bellan of the demand for cross-platform information accessibility by end users. While she says that the majority of Dow Jones' Factiva.com customers, who are primarily in the B2B space, haven't yet been clamoring for an iPad version of the product, the company rolled one out in April, incorporating video and a dashboard-based interface. "Our role is to help push new ideas and to ride some new waves to help customers position themselves for success," she says.

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