El.pub Analytic Issue Number 14

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Analytic 14 Looking back - seven years of El.pub (Part 1)

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Digital content R&D
The impact of new technology
The place of hardware
R&D focus and projects

Digital content R&D

The information service we (El.pub) offer concentrates on the R&D that supports change in the content side of the Information Society. The content industry is not just creation and delivery, nor is it just providing entertainment, news and business information. Any one who is involved in the knowledge economy is both a user and creator of content and content services. The majority of the R&D in this sector in the last few years has been concerned with developing applications that run on the Internet.

The digital content R&D topic map is composed of content creation, content management and revenue generating systems, delivery mechanisms, access software and user applications. All of these have moved steadily forward in the past seven years and many obstacles to success have been identified and in some cases overcome. However none of the major breakthroughs imagined have happened. The world’s knowledge is not instantly available, we don’t wear VR headsets feeding us augmented reality, electronic books are not in our hands being continuously updated with news and entertainment. Compared with the impact that the PC had on the office environment - remember waiting for documents to come back from the typing pool or some statistics to arrive from the sales department? - or the impact the mobile phone has had on inter-personal communication, the web is at this stage peripheral to most people’s lives.

Recently a number of press articles have attacked IT and ‘new media’, notably “'New Media': Ready for the Dustbin of History?” in the NYT (May 11th, 2003) and an IT industry survey in the Economist (“Coming of Age”, May 10th 2003). The complaints are that the Internet is only good for e-commerce and that IT is boring and a commodity, like the telephone or railway. It was popular during the dot.com boom and before to argue that IT had made innovation cycles much shorter and bringing products to market rapidly was the only sure way to success. This philosophy was applied to R&D to imply that ideas = breakthroughs and each idea = one product; the search for the ‘killer application’. The analysis, in the previous section, of the provenance of the web shows rather that R&D creates and assesses many ideas but that successful products often require the imaginative fitting together of a number of those ideas.

Digital content is at an early stage. Although it has replaced analogue input and processing, notably as regards sound and image, attempts to create entirely new types of content like interactive virtual environments have been largely unsuccessful. The end result is still text and pictures, speech and music, numbers and graphs. Traditional cinema and TV have used the technology to improve processing capabilities and lower costs. The main results of the technology are either behind the scene or in delivery and access. Design has been a major beneficiary. Designers can create 3D models of objects and buildings, try out full colour proofs of publications at low cost, and process images in ways that were very expensive and time consuming with analogue methods. Publishers have changed their content management methods. Users can access a large amount of information with ease through digital libraries of scientific papers, satellite images, photo stocks or cultural heritage.

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