The New White Space: An Opportunity to Inspire

Time flies faster than one realizes.

I got to catch up with two great friends this past Friday. Lawrence Swiader, who is the Senior Director of Digital and Media for the @Bedsider Program and Michael Edson, the Head of Digital Strategy for the Smithsonian. The together time in person is always filled with great ideas and talk. The three of us make quite a force of “digital”.

It reminded me of the opportunity I had back in 2011 to be a speaker at the Smithsonian’s Ignite Conference. I had recently held the role as one of a handful of expert reviewers for the Smithsonian’s next generation digital strategy encompassing technology, education and the digitization of content. A true privilege and I was so honored to be asked. The subject matter is near and dear to my heart and a passion stemming from my days as the Chief Digital Officer for the Library of Congress.

The world continues to move physical content into the World of Digital but there is still so much more content that sits in repositories and archives that has yet to see the light of day. Important content that offers opportunities for inspiration, learning and gaining knowledge.

While at the Library of Congress I functioned and ran my digital and education departments with the understanding that we had the opportunity to inspire.

Inspire a young child to become a lover of science.

Inspiring a young child to gain knowledge from playing educational games with primary source material.

Inspiring a teenager who potentially is so taken by the content we made available that it guided their choices in life to be an Author, Doctor or Scientist.

An adult who gained great inspiration from the content to move their idea and make it known in the World.

Results in any of those regards is of course elusive, how can you possibly quantify or qualify.

To me, It was simply just knowing that the inspiration was possible and that is was happening somewhere in the World.

There is still significant content to digitize and that which is available still has what I call “access” issues.

Two of the major challenges are searching and managing content that is digitized and ensuring the content is “accessible”. Accessible via multiple screens, form factors and interfaces but also in terminology known and understood by the masses we seek to reach.

Most mass content digitized from Library and Archive collections reflects the metadata (descriptive data) of Library subject headings, data in finding aids and the like.

Of equal importance is the demonstration of content with context. It isn’t enough to simply make the content “available” and “accessible”. One needs to tell the story of the content and act as a curator who is helping teach and inform. Even in digital, a navigator and curator is needed and ensures the significance and importance of the content and its story is told.

Often we get caught up in the technology. Often we get caught up in ontologies, architectures and structures that seem right and comfortable for only those in the “know”.

We forget the 12 year old student searching for content who most likely doesn’t have a deep vocabulary that reflects the terminology a researcher might use.

We forget the grade school teacher who needs content that is easily understood by her pupils .

We forget the life long learner who seeks to explore new subjects but doesn’t think in library and archive terms.

In this regard, those in Digital are still paving the way of the Wild Wild West.

What seems mature really isn’t.

What seems cooked still is raw.

What seems best practice is only a tip of a much larger iceberg.

The dynamism of digital, the multiply screens and fast moving and changing customer/member and constituent preferences compound the environment but keep it still highly engaging and stimulating.

We must all recognize that we remain the stewards and leaders to create inspiration through content and via the medium we know best. We see the possibilities and we know when and how those possibilities can take form in reality.

What follows is my “The New White Space” script and slides from the formerly mentioned Ignite talk. Every bit is still very relevant today as it was 5 years ago. You can view the video here: Kevin Novak and the New White Space. It was a fun and stressful experience and yes most of the art work, for better or worse, is mine.

The New White Space

In the beginning: disruption, a new white space was created, the web came to life.

The web, an immature space which offered great possibilities and opportunities to those that understood it.

The newness created excitement, bandwagon rolling, one must be first out the gate, the trailblazer before everyone else jumps onto the new exciting wagon rolling into the future.

The great time of experimentation, prototyping, testing and building began.

An explosion of approaches…

An explosion of information….

An explosion of services and experiences…..

Which would take hold in the present and in the future…..

How would this new white space be filled?

As information, services and experiences exponentially increased, so did usage…. The public was excited to be a part of this great new but undefined white space…

Those working or responsible for the “space” began to solidify, justify and prove the possibilities and opportunities within and outside of public, private, non profit and other organizations….

Strategies, tactics, paint ball throwing and large sums of money created one stop shops for information and services… all about communication, service, availability, more and more and more and more…..

Libraries began digitizing their collections en mass to be made available in the strange new frontier…

Governments began publishing documents to share…….

Businesses explored the web as a marketing and service tool…..

New businesses, attempts, prototypes came and went bouncing off of the new “white space”

We ran and we ran hard….. evaluating every new technology…. Every new idea..copying and applying what other trailblazers were doing and tailoring it to our business and projects…

Further defending why we were doing what we were doing, why it was of value, why it was cool, and what impact it would and could have…..

The result: .COM, .GOV, .ORG and a myriad of other websites….

Large websites… millions of pages…. Millions of interfaces….. massive repositories of content…. Thousands of interactive experiences…. Portals….. search engines…. And more…..

The growing monsters and their needs to be fed…. Ever growing… ever increasing…. Exploding

Users adjusted… it is what is available….

GIVE ME ALL OF IT AND GIVE IT TO ME NOW…….

Response: We will give you everything we can, everything we have….. HERE TAKE IT……..

Calamity ensues and the monster grows…

We think we have it down….

We have a strategy…

We know the tactics….

We have the talent…..

We have operationalized the web into an organization….

We understand the user……

Isnt it only very recent that we did “get” it, that we did operationalize? That we have finally begun maturing the execution and direction?

WHAM!!! EXPLODE!!! EVOLUTION, DIRUPTION, DIRECTION

Disruption is here again….

Devices of all sorts: Tablets, PADS, Mobile, Smartphones, talking cars, smart homes…..

Begin their quick, fast, crazy and short adoption track for the masses….

Faster than a speeding train…

Faster than Superman…..

Leaping tall buildings better than Spiderman…..

In the proverbial blink of an eye the playing field has changed….

A new “white space” now exists that isn’t quite the same as the old one… its different…

The delivery medium has changed… it isn’t a single glowing rectangle anymore…

It is many rectangles, squares, circles… who require different, directed, single, task based experiences..

What was required has now fundamentally changed…. Is there any similarity?

Our conceptions…. Those things we have grown and rooted, actually matured… are altered..

New strategies need to be formed…. The new white space is upon us….

We are once again in the great undefined and unknown frontier…..

How do we fill in the “white space”

Will .COM, .ORG, .GOV exist in the future? Have we created something short term that now needs to fundamentally change in focus, intent, and shape?

How long with the great BIG RICH COMMUNICATIVE websites last?

What is their future to an organization?

To us in the “white space” and the mature space?

Are we ready once again to evolve?

Can we change our strategies? Can we create new ones? How do we adapt ourselves and our organizations for the future?

How do we define the future?

The new great “white space” is upon us……. All that is there are a couple of new pencil lines….

What is the picture we will draw, how will we build off of the little that is there?

Do we know how to fill it?

The time is now and the time needs to be quick…. Disruption is here once again…. It needs to be fed, grown, and matured before the next great leap comes…….

TIME TO DEFINE WHERE WE GO NEXT…… ARE YOU READY??????

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