Am on vacation. Missed my first NPR Serendipity Day today. Am okay with that — this break is necessary and good — but still felt like throwing down ideas. Like…
I don’t play video games. Not having grown up in a video-game house (beyond Tiger handhelds and a dozen computer games), I’ve never gotten into them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a ton of respect for them — and intrigue about how they work. So, Valve’s “wacky Steam controller,” as Gizmodo put it, has fascinated me on its slow move to the market.
On the controller are two trackpads, not joysticks. Valve told Giz why: “The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers. Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse.”
Within those trackpads, you also get haptic feedback. A Gizmodo follow-up gets into the potential game use: “The idea of that feedback is that it’s supposed to create the feeling that the trackpad has edges on it, perhaps the outlines of buttons, if that’s how it is programmed for a specific game. Those trackpads are sensitive to movement and pressure.”
So, I wonder about the possibilities — for this controller or the concepts behind it — in a news CMS. Something that drives me crazy about media management is that we put so much focus on editing and so little on our distribution. Editing is tremendously important, don’t get me wrong, and better editing tools make for better editing. The less the CMS can get in the way of the editor’s relationship with the words and narrative assets, the better. But we haven’t kept up with managing the overall narrative and the relationship with the audience. The crowd is fluid, and we’re not.
Tools based on motion, like the Steam controller, are thus so interesting to me. Especially when you consider how the controller works on precise movements (the keyboard and mouse) rather than general and physical (joystick). Until we build The Son of VRML and until 3-D suddenly makes (another) digital comeback, joysticks have no place in a CMS. But precision movements based on real-time feedback, whether from the news audience or system-managed available routes of distribution? Now you’re talking.
Given the increasing competition in the marketplace, the print front-page editor or the magazine editor-in-chief needs to enter digital newsrooms more than ever. These editors have always been first and foremost about feel and placement and audience flow. MOTION. Let this editor choose where stories go across platforms and products, make high-level choices based on known and potential audience reactions and send the unworthy or almost-there content back to the line editors and producers for rework.
What could tools based around movement give this editor? Add a headset, and I think the movement spectrum would be wide open. Would there be shortcomings? Absolutely. No doubt about it. All involved (including me) would be terrified at first to have a top editor working without a keyboard.
But I’d also be so damn excited. In a traditional-media scenario where the workflow runs hard in one direction, it’s a blessing and curse of top editors — often promoted in newsrooms for their decision-making abilities — that they so often lose themselves in copy, fixing others’ content shortcomings with their promoted judgment rather than directing the other people to do so themselves. Workflow has dictated the other people to go home by now anyway. But in digital publishing, in our digital flows, the real-time nature means all involved bodies are often still in the house and directives — and clarities of directives — can arrive and have opportunity for quick action. The amount of content that many newsrooms are processing has also increased so much. An audience editor can’t afford to lose her/himself redoing the copy. The audience demands more copy and more attention.
I’m not arguing for this editor to ignore the copy and promote mindlessly; I’m just saying we have to think hard about the division of labor — and put the effort and trust into smart divisions of labor to work. Scrum-master — daily mediate — such a process as necessary. Do what you need to make it hold up. But at least one editor needs to be thinking about motion, about routing, about distribution, about where the content meets the audience.
Having different technologies in hand could be valuable. Could be! Or not. Maybe the keyboard and mouse are more than enough, perfectly sufficient for the developing digital space and its challenges. But my gut says they’re not. My gut says that if you want motion in your content flow, you have to commit to motion. Damn the torpedoes, take a few chances, mediate and Agile-retrospect as you go, iterate as you learn, and full speed ahead.
Serendipity Day Patrick