Hyperweb Hypothesizing: Roger McNamee, HTML 5, Apps, & the Future of Digital Publishing

Apr 20, 2012

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Many media prognosticators continue to spew a doom-and-gloom forecast for online newspapers, digital publishers and marketers, and electronic content providers. But Roger McNamee, managing director/founding partner of private equity firm Elevation Partners,  foresees a more optimistic near-term future for these players-provided they get with the program, specifically HTML 5 and mobile apps.

In fact, McNamee, believes we're about to enter a golden era of online publishing in which we'll see a fundamental shift in consumer behavior away from the commoditized content of indexed searching-Google's strategy-and toward the publisher-friendly apps approach espoused by Apple.

"Engagement, which is the primary indicator of economic value, is typically 15 to 20 seconds per story in Google's model," said McNamee. "Engagement shifts to two to five minutes per app in Apple's model, and with HTML 5, indications are you're going to take it much further. From a publisher's point of view, that's a huge improvement. This shifts the power back to the people who deserve it-the content creators and the consumers."

The promise of HTML 5 is streamlined functionality: media can be directly embedded within sites using simple HTML tags without plugins required, offline data for web apps can potentially be stored, and interactive features such as drag-and-drop are simpler to integrate. HTML 5 is an essential building block of what McNamee calls the "Hyperweb," which comprises the services layer and software that leverage the "Hypernet"- the sum of the wired internet and the mobile data infrastructure for wifi and cellular.

While HTML 5 is still evolving and today is primarily useful in mobile apps, "Within three to four years, HTML 5 will permit marketers to tie advertising to the content of the page as well as to the needs of consumers," said McNamee. "The notion of creating and satisfying demand on the same page without leaving the page will become routine."

McNamee believes that HTML 5 can rejuvenate an already stagnating web, which currently prioritizes indexed searching over user-friendly and visually stunning content. "The Web is not going away-it can use HTML 5 to revive itself if it's willing to create a new ethos-one driven by production values the way the Mac and Windows were before the web," he says. "Apps are consistent with higher production values, and they're definitely not going away."

HTML 5, he continues, "is going to atomize content distribution, because you don't need to be at a big company to have the power of high product quality and broad distribution. The advantage of the big guys is brand and breadth. The little guys compete with better content."

Case in point: Utilizing HTML 5, five cameras and a satellite uplink, Moonalice, a touring jam band for which McNamee plays guitar and bass, broadcasts 100 concerts a year in high definition and at a minimal cost; 100 million iPhones can watch a 780p stream of a Moonalice concert video over a 3G cellular network.

Thanks to Moore's law, McNamee added, Karl Marx has been proved right: the means of production are in the hands of the proletariat. "(HTML 5) is increasing the strength of small publishers," he said. "The big guys have no advantage here. They have great content creators and writers, but (journalists) these days are also going to have to make videos, which is why you see reporters at the New York Times going around with iPhones and tripods to record all their interviews."

McNamee, who offers "hypotheses" as opposed to "predictions" (including his 10 hypotheses for technology investing) says that while we can't see into the future, he recognizes two truisms in 2012 that digital publishers should follow.

First, "if you're a content player, the target you're aiming at is mobile-which means the iPhone and iPad. Secondly, the ability for publishers to differentiate their content and make it more compelling is rising exponentially."

However, digital content providers have to rethink their packaging.

"The mistake that the newspaper guys all made was they exported the (user interface) of newspapers to mobile. That didn't work. Now, they're experimenting with new (user interfaces). I don't think anybody's nailed it yet, but they're making progress," said McNamee, who cited the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Forbes and National Geographic as examples of publishers who have excelled at transitioning effectively to online and mobile platforms.

("Mobile phone with touchscreen" image courtesy of Shutterstock.)