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Future of digital content: reader study

Page 4 of 6

Topics from round one
User control of content
Content creation tools
Business models
Market aspects
Round 2 voting results
Strength of views
Table of votes
Topic views after round 2
User control of content
Content creation tools
Business models
Market aspects
Mobile and XML
Other topics
Comment on this issue of Analytic

Topic views after round 2


There was a consensus that broadband is a key factor in the development of improved Internet services. Potential problems of standardisation and cost can hold up the speed that new services will be introduced. Intelligent design in areas such as advanced compression can help maximise the use of new services with older infrastructure. Inertia amongst both service providers and current users can also hold back take-up. Some of this inertia is due to mismatching between content design cycles and hardware buying cycles.

Nevertheless, the Internet will improve, at least in the longer term, so that video, sound, 3D will be easily available in real time. There will be technical improvements so that mobile, handheld devices can be used to access the full Internet. These improvements will be achieved in the end through widespread, cheap access to broadband networks and new satellite and wireless delivery systems. Alternative quality of service offerings will be available. E-books will take off and be a major delivery channel, they will include video content. Web services such as peer-to-peer multimedia communication (videophone, collaborative working) will be enabled through large scale distributed computing networks (Internet 2 / grid).

For consumer demand to justify the costs, whether to the consumer or the service provider, content quality has to drive that demand. Consumers will stick with "good enough" technology if there is insufficient added value. There is also a danger of a 2-tier information society emerging to the detriment of all (producers and consumers), if the new services are not readily available everywhere at reasonable cost.

Some of the new services require technical improvements in areas such as battery life, screen resolution for portable devices, and infrastructure re-organisation. There is doubt that they will be introduced in the required timeframe.


In the round 2 questionnaire the optimistic and pessimistic views were given as:

Digital rights management problems, legal and technical, are overcome. As a result, the major players (movie industry, record companies, publishers) open their products to exploitation on the Internet.

Consumers see excessive publisher control of copyright, for example, eliminating current fair use or extending copyright indefinitely, as draconian and refuse to trade on the terms offered. The international legal framework is not harmonised and IPR in the global online system becomes chaotic. Large numbers of people continue to believe online content should be free and no market develops.

The clear majority endorsed the pessimistic view but indicated the path to a solution. Respondents were clear that rights holders need to be fairly remunerated and that they cannot afford to ignore the online market. The rights owners are unlikely to get what they want in all fields (for example music) but have fewer problems in other areas (professional information). Reliable business models are needed for specific market segments. The total elimination of all forms of piracy is unrealistic and unattainable; raising the barrier sufficiently is enough. Fair use needs to be written into new internationally harmonised legislation.

Social aspects were raised such as the need to address the important position held by libraries and the need to resolve IPR questions to enable online learning to develop properly. One respondent pointed out that we have yet to resolve all the problems created by the invention of the highly disruptive printing technology 500 years ago.

User control of content

Interactivity enables users to control the content. This control may be direct, for example user control of personalisation parameters, modifying a game design through the play, changing paths in educational material, voting on storylines in iTV or user controlled avatars creating the story. It may be indirect through automated rating or peer review, linkage driven by usage, and automated aggregation of material driven by usage.

On the other hand, some respondents doubted whether the average user was interested in controlling content or was capable of handling the complexity involved. A mixture of interface simplicity through usability and education of users to understand the possibilities were suggested as a solution. The question, for content providers, is whether user control can be used to drive additional sales.

The difficulty for authors both technically and in designing rich experiences were recognised. The gains for users if they fully embraced the idea were seen as, first, participation in developing their experiences in interactive worlds and, second, in relation to educational material in becoming creative active learners. For the industry, it is a cost effective way to generate new content (development of storyline in multiplayer games) and to retain users.

To succeed the users need to understand the benefits and want to have control. Customisation takes time to learn. Control may need to vary by market segment and by user characteristics (age, education, culture) and this may be too expensive to justify the cost in all instances. A new generation of users will find interaction easier to handle and may indeed demand greater control. Authors will need adequate tools.

Content may be aware of and respond to the user environment or context. Commercial pressure on consumers to respond to personalisation has not been highly successful and may lead to unwanted services. Transparency is important.

Content creation tools

Respondents in round 1 saw a wide variety of ways in which tools might be extended.

Tools could support:

• much more than format and layout of different types of content,
• products with advanced search capabilities, communication support (SMS everywhere), user annotation, and user feedback,
• templates and style sheets that address interactivity, usability, mobility and accessibility,
• linkage to automatic rating and personalisation systems,
• new technologies for portability, multi-sensory products (touch, smell, taste),
• quality control and usability testing.

Problems were seen with software developers and vendors preferring proprietary systems to get to market early and to create competition. On the other hand, this may open new market segments that later become more open.

Poor management thinking may lead to a concentration on content as an object rather than allowing the flexibility to pour it into a template or make it user modifiable.

A major factor that emerged was the importance of interoperability, both in tools themselves and in the content they generate. Tools need to fit into the workflow and the use of creation tools needs to be separated from other processes in the workflow. Different content types require different tools and compatibility with standards in existing media (backward compatibility) is necessary. Networking capabilities can support collaboration. A better understanding of multimedia and how it is developing is needed.

Open standards are seen as an important factor in improving the situation. Better collaboration between suppliers and between suppliers and users is needed. Professionals are marked by their ability to move quickly to take up new standards.

In relation to standards to support semantic interaction (that are missing at present), some felt that they can only be developed discipline by discipline (no grand design is possible) and that, based on past experience, they may force users to follow rules embedded in the system rather than being adaptive.

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