Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 157 / OCTOBER 1993 / PAGE 4

Editorial license. ('Compute!' magazine responds to changes in computing) (Editorial)
by Clifton Karnes

Today, we're seeing the birth of a radical new model of computing, one that will dramatically change the way computers work and the way we use them. I call this new model of computing content-centered computing, and its emergence marks the beginning of the second computer revolution.

Before discussing the new model, however, I want to talk about the current one, which we might call process-centered computing. The computer was invented more than 50 years ago to process information, and its ability to do this has accounted for its amazing success. In the process-centered computing model, raw data goes into the computer, the machine processes it, and useful information comes out. Examples of process-centered computing include spreadsheets, word processors, databases, and almost every type of productivity application.

In the content-centered model, instead of raw data going into the computer, information goes in, and the computer's power is used to deliver this information in a form that's more useful, engaging, and entertaining. Examples of content-centered computing include multimedia and online services.

If you think about what happens when you use a multimedia encyclopedia, you'll see that something is going on that's fundamentally different from massaging data with a spreadsheet. With a multimedia title, the computer isn't crunching numbers or text; it's delivering text, sound, and often, video. The same thing is true with online networking. When you dial up an online service, your computer enters another state. It's not working to process data into information; it's working to deliver information--content.

It's interesting that although networking is a much older technology than multimedia, multimedia is much more advanced. The reason for this is that multimedia's medium--CD-ROM--is a much more powerful, higher-band-width conductor for content than networking's medium--the telephone line.

This is changing rapidly, however. In the next two years, the speed of telephone transmission may increase 100 times or more, and we'll be able to do things via computers networked with phone lines that are only possible now with CD-ROM-based multimedia.

This birth of content-centered computing can be viewed as both good and bad. Historically, other technologies that have made a transition from process to content have moved from small niche markets to large, broad-based consumer markets. Hardware companies that survive these transitions do very well. Many magazines do poorly, though, because enthusiasts tend to be more interested in process rather than content.

As background, some examples of pure content-centered consumer technologies include the telephone, television, and VCR. These are the consumer technologies with the broadest consumer base. For examples of technologies that began as process-centered but made a transition to content-centered, you have stereo, photography, and video. These all began as technologies that needed lots of user interaction for success.

What does this emergence of content-centered computing mean for COMPUTE? Will COMPUTE go the way of most of the stereo and photography magazines of the 1980s? We don't think so, because computers are different from stereos and cameras in three ways: Computers are general-purpose devices (stereos and cameras are dedicated devices), computers are deeply programmable devices (stereos and cameras are very thinly programmable devices), and computers are much more complicated.

In fact, this emergence of content-centered computing is actually good news for COMPUTE for three reasons. It gives us two exciting technologies to cover (multimedia and networking), the interest in the new technologies is coming from the home market (which is COMPUTE's home territory), and these new technologies give us two new media to use as delivery systems for COMPUTE information.

It's this last point I want to emphasize, because COMPUTE is going back online. Beginning in September, you'll be able to find COMPUTE on America Online by searching for the keyword COMPUTE or exploring the Omni forum, of which we're a part. Check us out. We'll be covering the same process-centered topics we've always covered plus all the hot, new content-centered ones.