What to do?

David Paslay, a Bay Area designer, sends the following query:

Hey there Mitch, a quick question. I’m a web designer, I design websites with HTML and Flash and am wondering if you had any rough predictions on where the web might be heading in terms of technology and it’s main purpose? Right now I’m designing websites and I want to start getting into Flash Video because I think it’s becoming very popular in the line of work I do, which is web design. Do you think the web will serve as our entertainment source and for our business or work source? It just seems like the web is getting less and less static, and more animated, similar to television. But I can’t imagine working on a project for work laying on the couch with a keyboard. And I can’t imagine watching TV or a movie sitting at my desk?

I’m confused, what should I be designing for the web as a web designer now and 5-10 years from now?

I’m a mutant, because I do watch TV or movies—or, rather, have them on often—when I am working. I can’t work lying down, which is a posture more suited to reading and conversation, if you ask me. But our physical orientation to our work isn’t really the point, is it?

The purpose of technology is to ease whatever tasks people have and it is clear that our most pressing task these days is staying connected to other people and the information we need to make decisions, so I think you’re basic insight, that the Web is becoming an ever more integral part of human activity, is correct. What you’re wondering about, I think, is whether it’s realistic to think that we might be able to do work that’s also fun and engaging, as you ask several different ways whether the stuff you enjoy away from work is the basis for a job. If I am right, stay with me, if not, stop reading and make a comment, then we’ll see if I can answer your real question.

Yes, I think it’s clear the Web already serves as both a work information and entertainment source. The shift of young adults away from television viewing to active engagement with information on the Web or in video games (which are almost a part of the Web now, and certainly will be fully networked in the future) is clear evidence that IP-based networks address our needs as workers and for entertainment. They also help us communicate more fully and that’s why I think your interest in Flash video is well placed.

But, I would not think only in terms of how you might build interfaces for organizations that need to communicate, though that can be a profoundly profitable business. Think also about how you might let the person sitting at home engage the world through the network. The essential change is that the majority of people are not simply audience anymore; whether they actively produce content on a blog or for a podcast or just type the occasional message to a friend or join a community interested in birds or dating, they are adding to the not the silent recipients of stuff broadcast to them, anymore.

With that as background and given your interest in Flash, I’d look to build on the Flash Communications Server and to integrate your work with database and metadata-aware systems that help create context in online experience. Think of making your work a platform for others to build on, adding their own content, creating a channel for creative expression and critical discussion—people respond to and become loyal participants in communities, they have only passing involvement with all but the most extraordinary static content.

Here’s a question to ask yourself when thinking about what to design: What do you return do every day or week? I’ll bet it’s maybe one or two TV shows and several dozen Web services…. Why do you go back to Google? Because everyone’s searches add to the efficacy of your own searches. With Flash, you can build audio and video, graphical novels that never end, communities that share media, tools for communication. Build something people can add to as well as take away from and you’ll have something enduring.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

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