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How many people would print this out to read?

Most people say they print out anything over a page or two in length.

Isn't something wrong here?

Documents Not Read On-Screen
   Reports, analyses, plans, and other 5- to 500-page documents are not read on-screen
   Despite being created on-screen, we print them out
   This type of document is central to our society

Just about all important business documents have failed to move on-screen for reading. This is remarkable, since they're almost all created electronically.

This type of document covers a wide swath. It is central to our society. What are these documents? Analysis from researchers and MBAs, status reports, proposals, plans, white papers, writeups, trip reports, business plans, and more.

These are the result of what Walt Mossberg of the WSJ called "...the core mission of a PC: creating and editing documents."

On-Screen Has Advantages
   We simulate on paper what on-screen does easily, such as linking and searching
   We find and obtain documents on a computer, and don't always have a printer to make them readable
   Mobile computing and volume of material is increasing the advantages of reading on-screen

If we moved these documents to be read on-screen, we could take better advantage of the computer's ability to hold vast amounts of information, link, use color and interactivity, edit and forward or send back, and be searched. And, with the popularity of mobile computing and laptops, the situations where you even have a printer is diminishing. (Maybe they have LaserJets in first class...? I don't know. We're a startup, I don't fly first class...)

What's Wrong With On-Screen?
   These documents are skimmed, not read cover to cover like a novel
   Multi-page paper documents are skimmable if written correctly, assuming they are read on paper
   Word Processors are designed for producing paper output, not reading on-screen
   We think report means Linear Document

How can we make these documents more readable on-screen, so that we won't want to print them out? It's not the screen resolution: That doesn't stop us from surfing the web for hours. What's different is that these documents, unlike short EMail messages, are rarely read from cover to cover like a novel. They are skimmed. We use them to quickly find out: What are the conclusions? Does this person know what they are talking about? Is there anything new here? What's my role in the plan?

Paper is skimmable. Word processed output on screen is not skimmable. Taking a word processed document and putting it on-screen for reading does not work. We write them on-screen. We don't read them on-screen. We print them to read. Word processors are for making paper output, it's been that way when I first helped create an early word processor in the mid-'70, and it's still true today. The ruler is in inches, no less, not pixels.

Reading a linear document on-screen is like going back to the days of scrolls [Make scroll-reading motions with hands held out] -- "Hear ye! Hear ye! Wherefore the King...!" You can't look at a 40-page scrolling document and quickly answer the question "What's new here?" without printing it out. It's like trying to find 3 favorite songs on a reel-to-real tape.

What Makes Good On-Screen?
   "Web-style" developed for CD-ROM's, on-line help, and WWW.
   Many, linked pages
   Organizing lists and images with links
   Scrolling and fixed screen areas

We all know the answer of how to make documents that are useful on-screen: From CDROMs, on-line documentation and the Web, we've developed the Web-style of document. Many separate pages, links, image maps, color, pictures, scrolling and non-scrolling areas. These documents can be skimmed and are great to read if they are written and organized properly.

So all we need to do is make documents that look like the Web. Right? And we can learn from the successful commercial sites, like Disney, Wired, and MSN? Uh huh?


   About 10,000 commercial radio and TV stations in USA, employing about 250,000 people
   There are tens of millions of cellular telephones, air-to-ground radios, and cordless phones used by tens of millions of people
   We use individual transmitters differently than commercial broadcast

Let's make the same mistake in a different medium. When I say "radio" what do you think of? WABC, NPR, Howard Stern? Well, that's a small segment of the people who use radio transmitters. There are about 10,000 commercial radio and TV stations in the US, employing a few hundred thousand people.There are something like 20 million cell phones, and millions more cordless phones, and tens of millions of people use them.

Here's the mistake we are making when we say putting business documents on the web means commercial web-sites. It would be like picking up this radio transmitter [hold cell phone to ear] and saying [In a deep, radio voice]: "TTTThisss... is Daaaannn's Cellular! 2 MMMMillion MMMMicrowatts of Powwwwer! And, now, heeeerrrre's the D-Man himself, Daaaaannnnnn Brrrrricklin!"

Web-Sites Are Not Good Models
   Just as commercial radio is not a good model for personal communications, commercial web-sites are not a good model for business documents like plans and reports
   We need other models

Applying the commercial broadcast-only thinking to reading on-line is a category killer mistake for this industry when it comes to the Intranet. I walk the aisles of CompUSA and see the products being created for web-site animation and visual sizzle, and listen to much of the industry talk, and I get a strange idea of what most people must think an Intranet should look like.

Here's that same document again, this time done by an MBA like a commercial web-site.

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