Wouldn't it be cool if you could instantly access all the richness and multi-dimensionality of the Internet -- any relevant digital media concerning any subject you're interested in, including text, stills, audio, and video -- without ever leaving the site you're on?
The dream of the so-called 'semantic Web' is to use 'smart programs' to tag and link to information across media while providing context and depth to stories without human intervention. Such a deep "Web 3.0" experience is said to be just a vision on the horizon, still years away from becoming a reality. But the future is now, thanks to a trio of recent Stanford graduates who created Apture, a new communication platform that literally adds fresh dimensions and a web of information to previously two-dimensional posts.
"The Web is flat," says 24 year old whiz kid, CEO and Co-Founder Tristan Harris. "I don't mean that in a Tom Friedman-like, democratizing, 'anyone can compete' kind of way -- I mean the entire online experience is flat. Most people still think of the Web in a linear way. We want to unlock the fantastic potential of digital media and take it beyond the page." Using Apture, Harris says, the Web page is transformed from a flat "piece of paper" into a more powerful, interactive, intuitive and "hyper-relevant" multimedia experience.
It is often said that military planners prepare "to fight the last war." The same is true of many in the media, Harris believes. Faced with disruptive new technology, media makers often respond initially by attempting to recreate familiar, previously dominant media. Old models and metaphors are grafted onto the new medium until someone eventually comes up with a conceptual breakthrough that emphasizes and enables its unique qualities. So it is not surprising that the Web -- still in its infancy -- has emulated previous media forms, from books and newspapers to radio and television. Despite all the new technologies and applications associated with the Web, we are still essentially approaching 'new media' content in much the same way as we did the 'old media.'
Apture.com intends to change all that. Here's how it works: after a single line of java script is embedded on a site, Apture allows online users to bring up relevant text, video, audio or any other digital content in a pop-up window. As they move their mouse over an Apture-linked term, a box appears with a menu of related material chosen by the publisher, providing users with a cornucopia of in-depth related content. Clicking on any item in the menu opens a window where they can access that content -- Wikipedia, Amazon and IMDb reference information; videos from YouTube, Google, Blip.TV, Metacafe, Veoh, ESPN, Comedy Central, Hulu, BigThink, Revver and Imeem; images from Flickr and Wikipedia Commons; music from Imeem; news from WashingtonPost.com; PDFs, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents via Scribd; Google Maps and MyMaps; podcasts, MP3s, you name it -- without ever leaving the original page.
Apture provides a simple point and click system to add cross-reference links to Web pages (such as, for instance, the background articles plus video and audio about Apture found in this post). Rather than hunting for embed codes to post, say, a YouTube video, I can just search for relevant multimedia and insert it with one click. And get this -- although large publishers like the Washington Post must enter into a commercial agreement to use the platform, Apture is free to any blogger! How cool is that?
Apture has its roots in conversations between Harris and his colleagues and journalists in the Knight Fellowship program, which attracts top talent to Stanford's campus each year. Talking with the reporters sparked many of the concepts behind Apture, so it is not surprising that early adopters include such leading journalistic enterprises as the Washington Post, the BBC and the new non-profit news organization, ProPublica. Those not yet aware of Apture's immense potential should quickly get up to speed -- or risk being trapped in a two-dimensional media time machine. "Journalists need to think about content in multi-dimensional ways going forward," Harris believes. "Information on the Web is still being published in much the same way it has for years. Meanwhile we have the richest communication mechanism ever created -- yet much of the resources and content remains buried. The Web lets you make content dynamic -- and Apture lets you present it with empathy and interactivity. Journalism is a process of curation, not an end point... and two dimensions no longer cut it. People want ten dimensions of content now!"
Simply put, Apture adds context to journalistic content. Even the best text-based online post benefits from adding links and multimedia, because the Web and the way we interact with it differ from all previous media. Harris agrees Apture is "a game-changing technology" for the Web at large, but says it is of particular use to the news media and publishing industry. "Reading patterns aren't always linear. As something piques readers' interests we want to be able to give them the opportunity to dig deep, satisfy their curiosities and become even more involved in our site," Harris says. "Apture enables new forms of storytelling and journalism. When you're telling a story, you've got the whole world's media at your fingertips."
Is Apture "a paradigm shift in publishing and online communication," as Harris would have it? Decide for yourself -- but there's no doubt that it provides new tools to users that enhance their online experience, and allows bloggers such as yours truly to add true context to what I post. Sure, I could add the same content by copying and pasting code from, YouTube, but Apture makes it dead simple to add and share content on the Web. So what's not to like?