Thursday, March 24, 2005

Link-and-Pause – Media Multitasking in the Age of DVRs

Drag-and-drop made the use of PCs simple and powerful enough for the masses. Link-and-pause can do the same for media multitasking (simultaneous TV and Web use).

Growing masses of people now surf the Web while watching TV. This is building on the wide availability of wireless notebooks, and the readiness of heavy media users (especially younger ones) to multitask.

Yet many still question whether couch potatoes really want to multitask. That is reminiscent of an earlier question of whether ordinary consumers would want to use a PC – one that rightly raised much skepticism until the introduction of graphical user interfaces (like the Mac and Windows) radically simplified PC use.

Link-and-pause refers to the ability to initiate a Web interaction related to a TV program (or movie or other video or music) – and, as that is done, to pause the program. This can work like a traffic cop to selectively control multitasking. In this way intervals of interactvity can alternate with intervals of linear viewing, without either one interfering with the other. For example, you might link from a movie to the cast and credits to see who an actor is, and what else you saw him in. Link-and-pause can pause the movie while you do that. This enables the user to control when both media should be active concurrently – and when coactive multitasking should take the simpler path of alternating threads of unitasking activity.

The TV industry does not yet appreciate the simplicity and control that link-and-pause offers. Their concern has been that the TV program will continue on while the viewer interacts with other content, so the viewer misses the remainder of the program – that users will have a less satisfying experience, and that TV producers will lose their audience, along with the audience for their commercial sponsors.

What they forget is that with DVRs, users need not let the TV program run on while they pursue a tangential interactive task. With link-and-pause, this task switch can be automated, so that links are presented to assist in taking such tangents, and the actuation of such links can cause the TV to pause (or not, as the user desires). This enables a new kind of media usage we might call hypertasking.

A more extensive discussion of link-and-pause – and the complementary use of flexible bookmarking to control multitasking activity on the Web side – as well as the broader concepts of "coactive media" – is at the Coactive TV (CoTV) Web site.

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