Not long ago I had a discussion on where could documents be heading, and lately with the latest release of Iworks and a fantastic article I came across by from François Ragnet (xerox), I decided on writing a little more on this.
History flash-back - “Document 1.0” to “Document 2.0”
It’s safe to say documents have been around for quite a while, since Humans first started storing data and documenting as a shape of paintings in cave walls somewhere in Europe in the Aurignacian period. With time the obvious limitations (not only for writing but also sharing this information) of drawing them in cave walls led to more elaborate writing systems such as stone and clay tablets, animal bones, several metals and other means of printing. Eventually around the 2nd Century B.C. paper was invented somewhere in China in the Han Dynasty and for a very long time paper was the dominant way of writing and storing information.
After quite a long time passed by - let’s jump quickly to the 20th century - the first real big step for documents came with the Digital era, where we replaced the early physical format of Paintings, and later Paper and Ink and we started developing documents in the form of bits and bytes (digital documents). Documents became easier to create, read, share, and store. If we take a really close look they have not changed much since then. They are still pretty much the same and after such a long time it might be hard to imagine they will change much from here. But they will…
Context - The Cloud
First lets see what has been happening in the Internet and the so called “Web 3.0”. Everybody is talking about the evolution of software and specially applications on the Web empowered by the incredible advancements made in the Cloud. Most software applications have been experiencing advancements at super high speed in the latest years, with Mobile taking charge and thus giving the necessary room for what have been called “Software as a Service (SAAS)” applications to take over. Applications like Gmail (and many others from Google), Dropbox, Youtube or Facebook have been changing the way we manage our Tasks, Emails, Photos, Videos and a lot more syncing all these things through all of our new devices such our tablets or smartphones and thus changing how we interact and what we do with them on a daily basis.
But not really documents…Documents have been sort of a lazy son of this incredible evolution. And why? After all documents are a crucial part of our daily activities. They have direct impact on our work and the way we can improve our Productivity.
The Future for documents - “Document 3.0”
By saying we are still on the same “Document 2.0 Era” it does not mean that documents have stagnated since the 20th Century. They have of course suffered some changes and developed quite a bit. And although it’s hard to say what will be the next big thing for documents (was it the fact we started inserting images in them?or Hyperlinks? Metadata?), some things are pretty much certain and have already began to develop.
One of the main things that will affect the way we work with Documents is the sense of Cloud of course, the fact we will be able to access them ”Anywhere, Everywhere” and one other crucial aspect is the Collaborative Editing of documents that has only started to appear very recently with tools like Google Docs or the even more recent Office 365 (real-time collaboration, not sharing Floppy Disks or USB sticks between our coworkers or sending 40 emails back and forward). These would be some of the things that have already started to happen, and by reading this you will of course think “I already do this!”. But we are still far from what could actually be done with documents and hopefully by the end of this article we will agree on this.
A very interesting article by François Ragnet, tries to elaborate and predict on some of these changes that documents and ourselves will suffer (in a good way) over the next years with the development of the so called “Document 3.0 Era”. I will mention here some of these aspects, and take note it’s more than useful to check out the full article because there are some incredible things that I might miss out in this short summary.
1 - Easier access with cloud-based documents
This is the first step, and thankfully we have already started on this one. This is a very distinctive aspect of the Document 3.0 Era. Easier access to Documents, multi-device Editing and collaboration.
2 - Freedom from applications and proprietary document formats.
As a result of the first point mentioned here, much as has happened with several other key things on the Cloud, as mentioned by Francois Ragnet “you will be able to quickly create any type of document on any computing device without having to open a particular application or office suite. These changes will make it easier and more intuitive to work with documents.”
3 - More standardization and structure.
As proprietary application-based documents (like docx,doc,odt or any other) will tend to disappear (see point 2), new document formats will arrive based on fixed and recognized standards like XML, which will bring more structure into documents making it easier to access content within the documents and thus greatly improve automation in document-driven business processes.
4 - Remarkable advances in content mining.
This one is very important, and like we are watching happening everywhere within the Internet so will it happen with documents. Information in documents will become much easier search and content mine - which basically means “maximizing the use of available information”.
5 - Dynamic paper documents
In the Document 3.0 documents will gain incredible capacities, much greater than simply having embedded images or links inside them. They will fully use the power of some of the most advanced technologies such as RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification), being able to print micro-batteries, circuitry or antennas right on the paper making these documents “intelligent, self-powered devices with remarkable sensing and communication capabilities”.
6 - Passive documents become proactive agents.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect mentioned by Francois Ragnet in this article is the idea that documents will stop being this boring static collection of words and images printed on paper, without any life whatsoever. Documents will become energized living data, automatically searching the web for relevant up-to-date content. They will search databases, social networks and the Internet for Information that can leverage them and make them as personalized and as accurate as possible, turning them into something we have never seen before.
And not only all of this, they will also “retire themselves to an archive when they have reached the end of their useful lifecycle”.
Wrapping things up
So we have some exciting times in the next years to come for not only for Documents but especially for ourselves and the way we interact with them on our daily activities, and hopefully like mentioned before we can agree although we are on our way there, there is much road to go through yet. We are just in the beginning of the next big thing for documents…
But there are some big challenges ahead for this to actually come true. The rapid development of cloud-based computing has raised severe aspects concerning privacy and Information security that can have great impact on how these things can develop, but this is another topic with so much to say that I had to left out in this article. Maybe for a next article in a not so distant future...