Binary Graphics, Inc.

Paul's Piñata Revisited

by John Knapp, Binary Graphics, Inc. Seattle
© 1997 Binary Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

Paul Saffo is one of the more interesting thinkers I have come across. He works for an organization called "The Institute for the Future" in Menlo Park. I hope you have had a chance to hear him speak or to read some of his work.

The first time I came across Paul Saffo was at a conference called Color Connections in early 1991 where he lectured on the increasingly electronic nature of information. The Piñata metaphor he used formed as valid a foundation for thought about the future of print then as it does today. See what you think...

Everybody knows that a Piñata is a paper covered shape with candy inside. His analogy was that while we usually maintain a paper user interface around our information, it is the information that matters not the paper. And like the children who tear the paper away to get at the candy, technology is thinning the paper around our information. As he said in 1991, "We see today that there are spots where the paper getting very thin. Consider the Wall Street Journal: It is written, edited and layed out on a screen and is totally paperless. It is transferred electronically around the nation and only hits paper just before it is delivered to the reader."

Paul's lecture was an interesting diversion in a conference about desktop prepress and other crazy things like hi-fi color but it has stuck with me for half a decade.

So you can imagine I was reminded of that Piñata last week when I saw the ad for the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. ( The successful thirtysomething in the print ad said that getting news from the WSJ Interactive Edition was like going to his tailor. "Everything I want will be custom made to my specifications by a team of editors who specialize in tailoring news for the web. Any time I ask I get my own portfolio. My favorite columns. Even articles that contain key words I choose. I can change it all any time I want to. And that fits me perfectly."

I could just see the paper being ripped away and the candy pouring out!

Of course the ad went on to offer a 40% discount to those that subscribe to The Journal (non-interactive?) newspaper but I think Paul is right: It's the candy we really want.

I don't think any of us alive today will see a time when paper isn't a viable user interface. But we live in a time when paper must learn to coexist with other mediums. Our job is to find a place in this "Communications Continuum" (see my article) where we can make money today and keep our eye open for opportunities to do the same tomorrow.



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