Our Little World: I Have Seen the Future …

The comments to my recent post on new media got me thinking again. The more I debate and discuss this stuff the more I’m convinced that I’m right. we may think that the world of new and social media is maturing fast, but I think we are really just at the start of a new story. Bob and I can — and most usually do — spend hours talking about this kind of stuff when we meet and some of this inevitably spills out onto these pages. So, if your looking for hill-based entertainment I apologise. This is not the post for you. But ….

It is undoubtedly true that our little community has been made by the net. We are a band of people who share a niche passion (at least one). Fifteen years we simply wouldn’t have known that each other existed. We might have been happy in our own networks — for example TGO Challengers — but we’d never have been in daily contact with others in North America, Europe and beyond. During the early days of the internet I was thrilled (as an acoustic guitar player) to meet many of my heroes through usenet groups. Actually, this is where I first met Peewiglet. As exciting as this all was our world was quite limited and we rarely stumbled over the virtual divide to meet in person. These days many of us take for granted that — on say the TGO Challenge — we will meet people in the flesh for the first time who we have got to know pretty well already.

But the net has not only created contacts and networks. Look at the niche producers of ultralight gear for example. These folks may well have been producing gear in their garages before the net. But it has been the net that has enabled some of these folk to grow into genuine business that have an international reach. Imagine being somebody like Ron Bell and Mountain Laurel designs. How did Ron’s business become an international one? I bet he often sits, takes a cup of coffee and marvels at this. Of course, the answer is the net.

Despite the problems faced by new media (highlighted so eloquently by Bob) the reality is that we do now have a mass of material at our fingertips where twenty years or so ago we had very little. And it is multimedia. Hear about a book by some lunatic called Chris Townsend who seems to spend all of his time on long treks in beautiful places with no people? Well, now you can track the books down easily. And you can track Chris down to. You can not only read his blog but chat to him as well. We can all share in the experience of encountering this lovely man in a way that previous generations could not have even dreamt about.

Already we can see how new networks and new media can combine to give the established media a torrid time, not withstanding the problems Bob describes where — bluntly — established media set out to destroy new platforms. Was it ever thus?

But in niche markets the balance of the game changes. I know a lot of you have told me that you can now sit down for half an hour or more and — by reading the blogs and so on — get access to far more content than you can get in three or four issues of a print magazine. Sure there is a lot of crap around in the ether but there is also good stuff too and the specialist press are having to work hard to integrate themselves into this new world.

I think, though, that over the next few years we are to see an explosion in the quality of how niche data is shared through niche communities.

2011 will be the year of the electronic notepad. Yes I know that the iPad was the product of 2010 but what we are going to see next year is amazing progress as software geniuses show us how they are really coming to grips with these new hardware developments.

I have not yet taken the iPad plunge, though I now a number of you have. This is surprising really a I am a confirmed Apple junkie. But I resolved not to explore this new world until the iPad2 was out. I made this choice really because I figured it would take 12 months or so until the clever people really gave use programs and apps that were really useful and innovative.

However, I now have a number of friends and colleagues who have taken the iPad plunge and so I’ve had a lot of opportunity to play with them. And now I can see that the clever developers are beginning to produce the stuff that matches with how I thought the iPad (and its competitors) would be used.

The iPad is, of course, a fully-fledged, multi-task computer, unlike the Kindle e-reader which is really only brilliant at being an e-reader. iPads can be used as replacement laptops for the mobile and even as replacements for desktop computers in some environments. Ryan Jordan at backpackinglight.com has blogged about how he now uses his iPad and keyboard as his main writing tool, and he’s not alone. But it is the quality of the reading experience that hits me most about the tablet.

For me, the real point of the iPad is the sofa or the couch. I stumble downstairs on a Sunday morning, pick up the iPad and start to read content as I would have read a newspaper. Only this content can be far richer, be composed of multi media rather than simple type-based media. If I need to I can interact with this. But simply reading on an iPad is so much better an experience than reading on a desktop of laptop.

What’s now exciting me is that we are seeing developments from people who really understand the beauty of reading.

Flipboard is an app that has been given — by Apple — the accolade of App of the Year 2010. From what I have seen Flipboard deserves the accolades that it has received. This is just the kind of programme that is going to add eve more quality to our little ‘niche’ community.

What Flipboard does is bring together data from your favourite social media feeds (Facebook, Twitter and so on) and from both commercial and non-commercial RSS/XML feeds.

Using some very clever programming Flipboard displays this material is a stunning, quality magazine like format. There are other apps that do similar things but Flipboard’s real achievement is to go beyond that.

Consider this. I let Flipboard follow the Twitter Feeds and RSS feeds on some of my favourite outdoor bloggers. Flipboard pulls in their content and displays it in a really cool format. If Phil Turner or Chris Townsend have some good photos on their site then these will be featured in the glossy magazine type format. But there’s more. Phil is forever tagging articles and other blog sites in his Twitter posts. Flipboard will allow me not only to read Phil’s stuff but the electronic page will also feature photos and text from the links that he is tweeting about. Not only do I have a link to follow but there — on the same page as the blog post — is the content of the pages that he is twittering on about! Follow the links at the bottom of this page to see Flipboard in action.

Flipboard — and its competitors — will come of age this year. Many commentators are now describing Flipboard as the ‘Killer App’ for the iPad and this isn’t just hype. Rupert Murdoch may have his paywall but Flipboard will give us a community-orientated platform which exudes the same kind of quality. Bearing in mind the kind of crap content of Murdoch’s many enterprises Flipboard will probably give us backpackers and hill people a better quality product.

Now, I can pick up my tablet, sink into the couch with a cup of coffee and read my favourite blogs and backpacking material, sprinkled with stunning photos from Flickr and elsewhere in a package that oozes quality.

These are early days for Flipboard and some find fault with it at the moment. But the company is developing fast and it is not a simple garage based start up. The Flipboard team is made up of people who have impressive CVs that take in some of the nets finest companies, Twitter, Netscape and so on. Flipboard has raised significant investment funds and so it is not likely to disappear any time soon. And Flipboard is a company that seems to understand the full value of the net. Yes,it will work with established media company’s but as a child of the net it understands that — for us consumers — amateur content is at least as important.

Those I know who use Flipboard regularly tell me they are amazed by how it drives them towards sources of new material and introduces them to new writers and film makers. Flipboard see this ‘introduction’ technology as one of the key ways in which they will generate income. So, advertisers, news media and social media companies want their content to get to as many people as possible. Flipboard facilitates that. But they are now talking about constructing a micro payment system where promotional spend and advertising revenues can be shared with those who’s networks are exploited by Flipboard.

Flipboard is a truly exciting product and one that shows how the next phase of net development will unfold. I reckon it will serve our ‘little community well’, helping us not only discover new stuff but make better sense of what we read already. And it will give us more pleasure in doing so.

To find out more about Flipboard you can find a number of informative videos on their website.

Also worth watching is this 30 minute interview with Flipboard CEo Mike McCue by blogger Scobliezer.

This is an example of the technology that all of us will be using within 18 months or so. Of course, it wlll provide Bob with yet another headache in thinking through how to make it work. But, the real point of Flipboard is that it will allow our small community to integrate and to share even more effectively than we have learnt to do over the last five years or so.


  1. “This is an example of the technology that all of us will be using within 18 months or so.”

    All? With iPads costing from £430 up in a recession? Or have I missed something? Not sure I’m keen on the fragmentaion of the www into those who have the £s and those who don’t.

    “Of course, it will provide Bob with yet another headache in thinking through how to make it work.”

    Reflects my thoughts in the previous tech post.

  2. A good point John. But I did say it was the future and not so much the present!

    Sadly, the recession seems to toch some dramatically and others hardly seem to notice it!

  3. Cough, cough – you should have been a politician 🙂


  4. Mike fae Dundee says

    I must be a dying breed. I have absolutely no interest in media technology, and have never listened to a podcast! 🙂
    Facebook, twitter and the rest don’t make any sense to me. I phone folk if i want to talk to them, or send an email.
    Yes, i like to surf the net, and read the odd blog, but that’s as far as it goes.
    I would say i’m a dinosaur, but all my friends are the same!

  5. Hi ANdy,

    Would I be correct in assuming Flipboard only works with tablets or can it be used with e.g Apple mini mac. Tried to send query to Flipboard but like swimming intreacle!


  6. Mike fae Dundee says

    Flipboards? Tablet? Treacle? Apples?
    Is this another cooking post Andy? 🙂

  7. I too am waiting for the iPad 2. I have slowed down a bit on blogging because it’s a pain to sit at a desk and type. To sit in an armchair, flick through stuff and write a post will be liberating. One of the biggest problems of “new media” is that there is so much stuff out there. It now takes a lot of time to sift through it.

  8. I have an iPad, Flipboard, et al. I prefer to write blog posts in iA Writer, edit photos in Photogene and then just copy & paste everything in the Blogger template and hit publish. It is very convenient, but I miss some functionality from a physical keyboard, like shortcuts.

  9. Horses for courses. I’ve gone down the smartphone route recently and definitely use the internet/news browsing on a regular basis. But I still like the familiarity of the daily newspaper in my hands each day.
    As for The Kindle experience – leave me out

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