January 19, 2016


On the eve of going live with the new site

Behind the scenes and most recently while most of you were on holiday, the triumvirate of Miss O, Suu Kyi, and myself have been busily slaving away on what will become the new website. We have learned some remarkable things along the way.

Chief among them (and completely unexpected by me) was to understand for the first time how most people use websites – and much to my surprise the majority of people interact with website via their phones or tablets these days. For me as a power Macintosh user who owns two laptops and a 5K iMac (and quite often they are all doing different things at the same time), the idea of interacting with a web page via a device that is so small that I have to put my glasses on to read it is simply unimaginable. But clearly I am a minority, so my thinking must change.

On the flight back from Malaysia recently I sat next to a young man who is the CEO of a Netflix-like company located mostly in Asia. He told me that their stats say that 90% of their customers interact with their website and their products (films, TV programs) via their phones. This information has a massive impact on the way you design any site that is going to be relevant in the 21st-century, and it says something about the nature of consumption, too, and how that has changed (I am thinking here of the traditional western lounge room dominated by a TV, with couches or chairs, and around which family would gather for the evenings entertainment, after arguing about what to watch. These days are gone forever).

Our current site, like many sites, is a hodgepodge of different softwares and systems. But this phenomenon is hardly limited to us: for example, the last time I spoke to a Commonwealth Bank technical person he told me that they have 17 historical, or legacy, databases that the current software tries to link together, with varying degrees of success. Olivia and I have been unable to successfully change our place of abode in all of those databases and as a result the Commonwealth Bank is still sending paper printouts of various things to an address that we have not lived in for over 12 months. Three separate attempts, with senior people with higher access than the tellers, have failed to rectify this problem. This is a clue.

Relevant here are our ongoing interactions with Telstra; the company which exemplifies the notion of ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’. And there is an immense unwieldiness and inertia in all large corporations. For example, the last two times we reported a massive internet speed drop (>90%), the business centre dispatched a Telstra technician to find out why – both times a two-cent connector had failed. The tech replaced them with the same connectors. And when I raised this with the head of the business centre, asking him whether the people involved were aware of this problem, he said, yes of course. And I asked him well why don’t they do something about it? And he replied (and this is gold), “That’s the way they’ve been doing it for 45 years.” His point was that it is easier to dispatch a technician and replace a connector than improve – or change – the kind of connector they use.

We cannot look to the large corporations as any kind of guide to current best practice. There are problems with software and hardware and the way they interact and how people expect to be able to use them and if we want to be effective in this very rapidly changing environment, we have to co-invent the future ourselves.

We started this new website project several years ago, but we realise now that what we were really doing was learning about how people use websites and, as a parallel process, refining our own understanding of exactly what it is we’re trying to do with the website; this has changed hugely in the last ten years. There have been three major developments that have played significantly into this process.

We have had some success with our Vimeo On Demand (VOD) presence and ‘VOD’ has become a significant source of income and a focus of work that we will do in the future. VOD has changed our income base – in 18 months. Think about the speed of this change. In fact, apart from the workshops (and perhaps a few classes we will run locally), our entire world is now based on the idea of digital delivery of something that we’ve created in one place in the world and which is delivered, automatically, to any other place in the world, once someone pays us a modest amount. As [DW] so famously said recently, we are two of the few people making money on the Internet not actually involved in pornography. I found this a charming idea.

Another development fundamental to Stretch Therapy, and which occurred during the same period Vimeo on Demand emerged, is the emergence of print on demand (POD) technology. POD refers to the process whereby you order a book from (say) Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and a hidden “total fulfilment company” gets the order electronically, prints one copy, binds it, packages it, addresses it, and sends it to you. POD, as we affectionately call it, is a boon for authors, who immediately have become publishers with this technology. As I wrote in the foreword to the second edition of Stretching and Flexibility, the shortcomings of the Gutenberg press model have been addressed, finally. I speak of the primacy of economy of scale in the publishing mind-set of previous years (meaning that one had to print a lot of books in order to get individual copy costs down to something manageable, with the financial risk that involves; most books are ‘remaindered’ within 12 months of publication) and of the publishing company’s influence in the authorial process (“Is it too complicated? There are so many words…”). And when books are printed using this almost 600-year-old technology, they have to be transported and stored somewhere, where they are susceptible to the same vicissitudes of Middle Age libraries: rodents, inundation, and fire. With the advent of POD technology, though, any author can update his or her material as quickly as writing it, converting to PDF, and sending it to the company. And publishers are no longer needed.

Between POD and VOD, our world has changed, forever.

The third development is called “micro 4/3rds”: a standard devised by Olympus and Panasonic. The result is a range of hand-holdable video-capable cameras that can also take magnificent still images. All are about half the size of the cameras they replace, or smaller. For example, my four-camera kit will fit in a small carry-on bag and include batteries, lenses, sound recorder, tabletop tripods and other essential equipment – all weighing less than the international 7 kg limit. My old standard definition “professional” video camera weighed more than this, without the charger. Ten years ago no amount of money would have bought a portable studio that could fit into a carry on bag and which could record high-definition video under ordinary room lighting. I can travel everywhere with this bag now and this equipment allows me to make programmes on whatever I feel like wherever I am in the world. As an ex-television director (who once had a crew of 45 in one of the two big four-camera television studios at Gore Hill in Australia), this is liberation. Print on demand is liberation for a writer.

The bigger picture is that these technologies have freed many of us from the strictures of large organisations – and it is not just the inertia I referred to above; it can be the sheer cost of ‘getting the experts’ involved. Today, anyone can become one of those experts. Reorganising our internal mental landscape to take full advantage of this will be required: action requires a vision, the confidence to see it to fruition, and the energy to sustain the effort that will be required.

I don’t want to make today’s blog too long, because I have become aware that most people do not care to read these days. As a writer, I acknowledge this reality in order that I communicate more effectively. So, for example, all individual elements of the new website are introduced by an image or an icon and just a few lines of text, followed by a more button*. In this way the user can skim the total content of the site very quickly and drill down deeper whenever she wishes. This approach is a fundamental change in information architecture that acknowledges the shorter attention spans of the modern reader/watcher; that recognises that information now is more than word-based content; and which results in an organisation that benefits all users.

Today, and perhaps for the first time in human history, content creators and educators are limited only by what can be conceived. Seeing this clearly has profoundly influenced our new website; we will be very interested in your feedback.

*On the new site, clicking this takes you to the bulk of the text, images, possible an icon or two, and maybe an action you can take, like paying for a workshop.

Google has long owned the internet; bowing to pressure, we now have Instagram and Twitter presences, but only to get the site’s new name out there. stretchtherapy.net is live.

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