In a recent post on his Publishing 2.0 blog, Scott Karp used one of my favorite lines:

Lesson for publishers: The web is more about applications than publications.

This is a lesson to absorb from its fundamentals, I think. The application of information in print was to place it in a structured, organized was constrained by print limitations — page numbering, indexing, tables of contents, headers, footers, and all these conceits were affordances for print limitations. So, the application was a publication, at least in its form factor. And, as form follows function, we can induce that the function was mainly reading and organization in a sequence.

Now, we have a set of information distribution tools that eliminate barriers and have different affordances that can be manipulated around a vast array of use-cases. Still want that publication experience? We can do that and more! It’s a little application called a PDF.

But what happens when the information isn’t available because it is still aimed at the publication endstate? That’s the pain of the incumbent publisher.

Even the Associated Press is changing, from “containers” to “access points.” And what will users be accessing?


Want to see one of the great publishing applications? Try Google Earth. You can receive information from Wikipedia, the New York Times, National Geographic, and others through this photographic globe. Nature has used Google Earth to track the emergence of Avian flu.

Applications, not publications. If you want evidence that this is where the Web lives, there is no better proof than Google. It is an application on top of publications.

And that says it all.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


2 Thoughts on "Applications, Not Publications"

This really resonates with one of the points Alex Wright made in his SSP keynote this year, that there are two fundamental, innate ways human beings structure information: in hierarchies (top down, nested categories) and in networks (flat, self-organizing). Publications are fundamentally the former (somebody has organized the information in a particular way for us); the Web’s the latter (made for exploring and twigging). One’s not better than the other; they’re just fundamentally different.

Very good point. Applications likely resonate with these innate approaches to information, mixing and matching in a rich way, depending on the use-case. We definitely seem to be adopting the networked mode (flat, self-organizing) more these days, if I read between Bill’s lines correctly.

Comments are closed.