The book is a doorstop. The page is passé. The catalog is a kludge. The website is heaving a rock through a window to get some fresh air.
In their day, each of these units of information represented a gold standard for the transference of knowledge and experience. But that day has passed. Each of these information-sharing approaches today feels heavy, clunky, slow, and unnecessary.
Driven by social sharing and mobile screens, the natural unit of information sharing is getting smaller. Those 140 characters already feel a bit weighty. Pinterest communicates with no words at all.
In fact, the movement toward smaller units of content has been going on for centuries. In the early days of content--clay tablets, scrolls-- that specific creation was the one and only unit for sharing. The creation was indivisible. That remained largely true right into the 20th century. Who would think of tearing a printed book in half to share with a friend? Even tearing articles out of the daily newspaper felt a bit sacrilegious.
Then came PCs, postscript and Adobe. Suddenly, through PDFs, the page became the natural unit for information transference. The World Wide Web picked up this norm and made the page, in the form of one screenful of content, its organizing principle. The original addressing schemes for the Internet could not describe a unit smaller than a page.
The page has had a hell of a run, more than 20 years. But sic transit Gloria mundi, nothing lasts forever and now the age of the page is passing.
As I wrote about in an earlier post, images are coming forward with a new power and flexibility as standalone content elements. Twitter has dawned a revolution in creative brevity. Analytics can now pinpoint precise bits of content individuals actually seek and can deliver them in the form of "native advertising."
Given this long-term, inexorable historical trend, what is the natural successor to the page?
Cards are small, malleable, comprised of a brisk, flexible mix of many elements. They work on any screen, can be abstracted from larger content chunks or built up from smaller units. We stand at the brink of the Age of the Card.
Paul Adams, the brilliant engineer behind both Google+'s circles and Facebook's design architecture, wrote a few weeks ago, in a post titled Why Cards Are The Future Of The Web, "If the predominant medium of our time is set to be the portable screen (think phones and tablets), then the predominant design pattern is set to be cards. The signs are already here."
Twitter, as Adams notes, is getting more card-like. Google has just begun experimenting with card interfaces for Google Now. Spotify's Discover feature is card-like as are many of the new element of IOS 7.
Perhaps the most dramatic expression of the emerging power of cards is Citia, a NY-based start-up with a rich and dramatic 3-D card interface for publishers and brands. (Disclosure, I am an advisor to Citia and friends with its CEO, Linda Holliday.) Apart from the jaw-dropping beauty of Citia's interface, what sets the company apart is that it has attacked the two elements of cards-as-social-content that look alone doesn't touch.
First is tethering. It is fine to spray cards everywhere, but the content owner, especially if a brand, will want to know where the content went, who interacted with it, how it was shared, and such. Citia cards flow to any screen, but have analytics always tied back to the source.
Second is business model. Just dumping ads onto a card's surface feels gross and imprecise. Citia cards have a "back" that can be anything the card owner wants: an ad, a coupon, a transactional interface, you name it. Meanwhile, the content on the front of the card remains pure and powerful.
Will Citia be the Adobe of the Social Era? Possibly. But even if not, the trend is undeniable. The cards are coming.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Pivot Conference. This event (held in New York on October 15-16, 2013), brings together more than 400 Social Business Leaders from major companies at the forefront of change. For more information about Pivot, click here.