Friday, March 29, 2013

The digital/analog dichotomy

What's old is new.  We've all heard that before but what does it mean? My wife loves old appliances and furnishings because of the inherent quality of construction and classic style. Lapels get skinny, lapels get wide. You can buy a mobile phone headset that is simply an old school handset.

The more things get digital the more call for analog. Is that just conjecture or fact?  In the visual communications sector I can give a bit of guidance there.

It's hard to believe but in 1994 if you wanted to license a photo to use in your ad campaign you would call a stock photography agency, they would research their files -- and I mean real files, as in file cabinets --, send you transparencies that were duplicates of the photographer's original, and after you made your choice you would take it to the designer who would have it scanned at high resolution for the final print use.  That was the world before companies like PhotoDisc, Corbis, and DigitalStock began scanning images en masse and creating online libraries where you could search for what you needed on your own online.  I lived both sides of that equation, running a professional photo lab that specialized in high-quality duplicates but also taking the archive of the company that became Corbis from 5000 to 1,000,000 images in two years.   At Corbis we were writing the rules of production and storage as we went along but 13 years after I left the company my favorite project was working with David Alexander, founder of A&I in Los Angeles, as we curated the Bettmann Archive to find cool, old negatives that would make good art photos suitable for framing.  We both felt early on that as photography continued to get more digital there would be a valuable market for the real and tangible. We were right.

Spring forward to last month and the announcement of the new Samsung Galaxy S 4. It is a marvel of technology, with all of the linear improvements in speed and resolution you would expect along with some new high-profile features like eye-tracking. But what feature did Samsung announce as part of their new 13 megapixel camera? An option for physical book and magazine output powered by Blurb.

Blurb has always been a dichotomy.  A Web 2.0 company that was founded as the investment markets were heating up post-bust, we were without a doubt "new media" and ecommerce but with an initial product and strategy that was solidly analog.  That strategy was once again confirmed with the announcement that Samsung had chosen Blurb as their global partner.

With ebooks many of the best user experiences are those that most closely match analog.  At Blurb we're always looking for ways to make our ebook offering what our users need to encourage creativity and authorship. There will continue to be progress on that front, but with the new will always be strong reference to the old.  Yes, print usage will continue to diminish over the coming years and rightfully so. Physical, disposable, limited-life content like news and research should live in the digital realm.  But as we spend more and more time looking at pixels on a screen, the reflective experience will remain live and well -- and valuable.

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