We believe that topic microsites will ultimately eclipse white papers and other downloadable media as the primary channel for point-of-view dissemination. Among the reasons for this are that a web page is a much more powerful medium to convey information with. Things you can do with a web page that you can’t do with a pdf include:
- Enlargeable, animated and interactive graphics
- Hyperlinks to later articles, as well as to earlier ones
- Readers’ comments and responses to them
- Video and podcast excerpts and supplements
- Live feeds of blogs and articles on the topic from other sites
- Reader polls and surveys
(You can read a fuller explanation of topic microsites here.)
Nonetheless, the market is moving only slowly away from distributed white papers towards these more powerful online destinations. Most topic microsites that have emerged so far take advantage of only a fraction of the tools that can make them more engaging for readers and prospective customers.
But one dimension that is developing reasonably quickly is graphics. At the very least, we can all now include graphics that were too previously large and complex to put on a page, as BCG does here, or we do here; we can include a reduced version which enlarges when the reader clicks on it.
Getting more sophisticated, this chart published by the New York Times in May shows the respective growth curves of Microsoft and Apple. But it also incorporates a huge amount of data about milestones along the way which you can access by clicking on the information icons. There is no way sensible way to do this in a print or pdf version of the page.
This chart by McKinsey embeds information in several dimensions. It shows the relevance of collaboration tools to 12 different work roles. Behind each role is a description of the major activities involved, and an assessment of the usefulness of every tool, both for each activity and for the role overall. There is also a mouse-over description of each tool. There is a huge amount of information here, but it’s easily presented and digested because only a relevant subset is shown at any one time.
These graphics are more than just gimmicks, and they are more than just a passing fad. They presage ever more creative and engaging ways that we will find to convey complicated material in an easily digestible way online. Most firms, and indeed newspapers, are having a very hard time moving away from their traditional forms of publication. It will be several years before people have truly figured out how to use all the online tools already at their disposal to best explain complex problems and the solutions to them. But the direction is already clear.