Thursday, May 7, 2009

Will iPhone, Kindle and Online Collaboration be the end of Printed Documents?

What was the last document or file that you actually printed yourself? Was it something that you wanted to share with others, or did you simply prefer reading it on paper instead of on screen? Maybe it was something you needed to sign and submit, or perhaps you were just following a common work habit?

I remember the last item I printed. It was an airline boarding pass I needed a few days ago. The “document” before that was really just a discount coupon for parking. The last time I printed a business related document was about two weeks ago, when I decided to review a program summary outdoors. My MacBook display is quite bright, but it still isn’t useful in the sunlight. (I always wonder about those laptop adds staged near swimming pools….)

Anyway, I’ve been observing my reduced printing behavior as a sort of personal experiment. It’s encouraging progress from a green perspective, but that’s not really my motivation. I’m simply finding that my growing reliance on web based document delivery, editing and sharing is largely a matter of convenience. I’ve grown tired of re-typing my own freehand notes and my intended output format has largely become electronic as well.

The addition of new content delivery devices like the iPhone, and Kindle are also changing my expectations about how and when to consume and, sometimes edit content. I’m having no trouble reading news using the New York Times and Wall Street Journal iPhone apps. While I don’t do much serious document editing on this device yet, it’s easy to use email, Linkedin or Twitter, and reviewing an Office document isn’t impossible. I’m looking forward to iPhone OS 3.0 software updates for improved editing as well.

Using my iPhone to access and manage documents in an ECM system

I’m not sure where the Kindle would fit into my own content management lifestyle as my MacBook is with me at most times, or if it’s not my iPhone certainly is. However, the combination of these devices appears to have profoundly changed my appetite for printed output as both a content creator and consumer. For those who mostly consume content and maybe use another device for email, etc., the new Kindle DX may become their “green” alternative for newspapers and magazines. While a bit expensive, it will certainly help keep fingers and clothes cleaner.

A lot of business, legal and medical processes still depend on paper documents, but I think that may change sooner than most think. The cost-saving and security advantages of doing this have been well documented. While the process of change is not simple, I suspect some of the fears associated with managing electronic content are somewhat inflated. We simply need to become more comfortable with paper-less content in general, in order for it to be better accepted as part of mission-critical business processes.

Online document collaboration software and devices like the iPhone and Kindle may be just the enticement we need to become ready to embrace a paper-less future. I’ve even begun using my iPhone WSJ app to read the “paper” before it gets delivered. I wonder how much longer I’ll continue with home delivery of the “old” version…?

An easy way to test this whole hypothesis is to become more engaged in social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and even Twitter. I’ve noticed that the more I use these networks, the more I want all my content stored online – whether that’s photographs, music or documents. Pretty soon, having content stored anywhere else just seems like a hassle. And of course, that means printed documents too.

Has your paper document consumption and output begun to change also? What’s causing that to happen and how is it affecting you or your business? Please let us know.

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