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INVISIBLE PCs

The pod people are taking over. The latest victim: PC/Computing which used to be a decent end-user magazine and now is Yet Another business rag with articles on how to increase your ROI by cheating on your spreadsheets and 15 ways to make your Office documents really boring.

Ten years ago, magazine stores had a wall of consumer PC magazines, ranging from vapid (Computer Shopper) to the technoid (Byte). Now, only Computer Shopper remains and it's nothing but a yellow pages with enough text-based kapok to keep the Postal Service from classifying it as a catalog.

Why? Well, you'll notice few magazines such as "WaffleMaker World" and "Blender Weekly." Computers have evolved. They've gone from hotrods to appliances. And this happened for two reasons.

First, computers got easy. It used to be that if you wanted to upgrade your computer--or build one from scratch--you had to worry about multiple incompatibilities, from low-density 5.5-in. floppy drives to run-length-encoding hard drives. Now, most of what you need actually snaps together, even SCSI devices and the occasional USB multi-purpose printer, fax, copier and pants press. And, despite all our collective griping, the operating system has also gotten easier to use from the end user perspective. Plug and Play works more often than not. Even setting up a home network no longer requires gathering the eye of a newt and Frobazz brand wand.

When everything is easy, there's nothing to write about and not a lot you can do as a hobbyist except break things sort of on purpose. Thus, there's less need than ever for hobbyist magazines.

Second, computers have become part of the background for many people. They are commodities you buy at commodity prices. Sure, Moore's Law is still in effect, but the perceived difference between a 400mHz PC and a 600mHz PC is tiny. That's because we need a corollary to Moore's Law that would cause software to double in power and complexity every 18 months so that the hardware will have something to chew on. I mean, for many of us so long as the processor is faster than our typing speed, additional hardware performance is a waste.

It's hard to complain about the passing of the Computer as Hotrod. But there are some implications for knowledge management. With computers an accepted part of the environment, more and more information will be generated digitally (duh!) in more unstructured environments while user expectations for ease of access will increase. KM systems that look like information retrieval systems will be of use only to the increasingly small portion of the population that thinks about computers as worth noticing. For most of the organization, "knowledge" better come looking like a magazine, a game, or a personal message from someone you like.

Invisibility is the price of ubiquity. Just ask air.


David Weinberger is publisher of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO) newsletter and a frequent contributor to KMWorld Magazine

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