Can You Still Keyboard?

I started my online life back in the late 1970s, when data entry meant typing punch cards and praying that a typo didn't hang up your program. As we evolved to more personal interactions with our computers, I chose an early IBM PC over an Apple II. Even back then, there was the divide between PC and Apple users. The analytical folks justified buying a PC because Lotus 1-2-3, one of the first truly useful business apps for personal computers, only ran on PCs. You want to do analysis; you buy a PC. The marketing and communications folks, of course, were early Apple adopters and the first to appreciate the value of the intuitive interface and navigation with a mouse rather than only a keyboard.

Apple continues to raise everyone's expectations of what it means to interact with data. When I bought my Droid, I simply assumed that I would be able to use the two-finger pinch to zoom in or out, and I have become accustomed to the inertial scrolling and haptic feedback that lets me pretend that I'm interacting with atoms rather than bytes.

I was intrigued by an interview with Steve Jobs during the latest D: All Things Digital conference, the geek-fest sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. Walt Mossberg asked Jobs about the difference between the iPad and Microsoft's tablet PC; Jobs' response was that Microsoft started with a PC and made it smaller, whereas Apple wanted to develop something that didn't require a stylus but could be navigated with multitouch finger gestures. Hence, mouse or keypad required.

Reaction to the iPad seems to have split between those who use a computer (and I'm including smartphones in this category) to consume information and those who use a computer to create content. As much as we hear that the collaborative web is all about user-created content, most people, most of the time, are not themselves contributing content to the web-they are reading, they are listening to music, or they are playing a game with 35 of their closest online friends.

In fact, this is reflected in the 90-9-1 principle, or participation inequality, in social networks and online communities. The rule posits that 90% of users search, navigate, and view but do not create content; 9% occasionally create or edit content; and 1% of users (known as hyper-contributors) are responsible for the vast majority of content in social media. This doesn't mean that the 90% are not benefiting from the community, only that lurkers are always going to be a significant portion of a social network.

Because of this rule, it is quite possible that a separate keyboard isn't all that necessary for most users. If you are not creating content regularly, you hardly need a full-sized keyboard. Just pull up that little keypad on the screen when you need to comment on someone's status or find someone's tweets.

Interestingly, Jobs dismissed the need for heavy-duty typing: "That's 1% of the time" he uses an iPad. Let 'em use a Bluetooth keyboard when they want to type an email for Grandma. Otherwise, just use two thumbs and the autocorrect feature.

We may have just found the next digital divide: those who have keyboards and know how to use them, and those who are, literally and quite happily, all thumbs. This strikes me as the next wave of the info-elite. Those of us who know how to type with all 10 fingers (or who have mastered speech recognition software) create content. We are the ones who take information, work with it, find insights, visualize data, and create a report for our clients, using a keyboard and value-added econtent providers.

We have come to a point where value-adding info pros truly distinguish themselves from both Google and rip-and-ship info pros who are content to send lots of data to clients. A value-adding info pro understands that there is a reason why she has a keyboard-she needs to find data, organize and massage it, write up an analysis and summary, and create charts or graphs that help visualize the information. Her role is to use her keyboard so that her client doesn't have to. She provides content that a client can directly drop into a presentation, a marketing plan, a SWOT analysis, or a new product development process.

One goal will be to enable our clients to use our deliverables without needing a keyboard. Are your reports sufficiently iPad-friendly?