Microns: Theory and Economics (Part 2)

The Past of Microcontent

As I was thinking of microns, another word from my past flashed in my mind. Microcontent. It was very much a part of my life around 2005-10. And there was much discussion then around it among bloggers, writers and innovators. So, I went into my Emergic.org blog archives and searched for some of the thinking around that time. Here is a collection. (As I read it, I was surprised how some ideas come back – perhaps they never went away.)

Sep 2006: Quoting Wikipedia then: “The term Microcontent has first been systematically introduced and defined by Anil Dash in 2002: Today, microcontent is being used as a more general term indicating content that conveys one primary idea or concept, is accessible through a single definitive URL or permalink, and is appropriately written and formatted for presentation in email clients, web browsers, or on handheld devices as needed. A day’s weather forecast, the arrival and departure times for an airplane flight, an abstract from a long publication, or a single instant message can all be examples of microcontent.”

Sep 2006: Quoting Dion Hinchliffe: “Information is often the most useful in bite-sized pieces.”

Feb 2004: Quoting Steve Gillmor: “In a micro-content world, business documents are broken down into their constituent elements: notification, transaction, context, priority and lifetime.”

Jan 2009: “Is it possible to build a direct-to-consumer model for content subscriptions, a sort-of iTunes for microcontent. Pushed content has a charm of its own on the mobile. It just comes to us. Because of the immediacy and 24×7 availability, we welcome it – as long as it not spam.”

July 2003: About an RSS aggregator that I had created in the early days of Netcore: “Our Info Aggregator was created with the same belief in mind: people (the mass market) want fewer tools and programs. Email is the one everyone is familiar with. I see the future as being driven by RSS feeds to which we will subscribe to, microcontent from these feeds which we will read in the email client, and then blogging tools which we will post to. The RSS ecosystem is being created, nearly a decade after the HTML system ecosystem brought us the web. The new web will be a Publish-Subscribe web.”

June 2003: Me. “What is needed is a mechanism for microcontent from the sites (or people or databases) we want to be delivered to us in near real-time. Ideally, we should be able to do this with the tools that we already have, specifically the email client and the browser. There is no need to add to the complexity of downloading and learning yet another application… Another way to think of the PubSubWeb is as an EventWeb. Each update of the content (publishing) is akin to the occurrence of an event. What is needed is for us to be able to (a) subscribe to the event stream and (b) receive notification and details of the event as and when it happens. From a publisher’s point of view, there may also be a need to restrict access to who can subscribe to the event stream.”

The context that time was different. It was a world of blogs, RSS, aggregators, P2P content, XML. The precursor to what became Web 2.0. I tried many things then – an IMAP-to-email RSS aggregator, a blog search engine, MyToday SMS (content subscription channels) and MyToday Mobs (SMS grups). None of them succeeded. But the basic idea of microcontent has not gone away. Twitter epitomises it, so do the various other social media platforms. RSS gave way to the feed – the stream of endless content that so consumes us.

It is in this world that I think microns delivered over email from trusted sources (publishers, businesses) to willing subscribers can find a place. In our new world of clutter, microns can deliver clean and clear content. Amidst noise, microns are the signals. A breath of fresh air. And just about the length of a breath!

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.