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The Berg Little Printer is a gimmick that changes nothing, but might change the world
If you follow the right type of person on Twitter, you can’t have missed Berg’s Little Printer.
In their words:
“Little Printer lives in your home, bringing you news, puzzles and gossip from friends. Use your smartphone to set up subscriptions and Little Printer will gather them together to create a timely, beautiful mini-newspaper.”
I think it is a gimmick that will grace a few of the homes that own those over-designed three-legged orange squeezers, but its importance will be out of all proportion to its commercial success.
The Little Printer shows why newspapers are dying
Newspapers don’t exist to report news. They exist to distribute the news across entire countries by 6am every morning.
Historically, reaching an audience of 100,000 or 1 million people was a huge logistical task. Newspapers emerged to solve this task in an entirely analogue, physical world. Once they had solved this issue, it made sense to add other content, and slowly newspapers added weather, puzzles, gossip, financial news, sports, TV listings and classifieds to their repertoire. The bloat has grown so substantial that the Sunday New York Times now weighs in at 4.2 lbs.
What newspapers haven’t realised is that they are solving a task that is no longer difficult. I can reach 15,000 people a month on GAMESbrief, sitting in my living room, blogging in my underpants. (Sorry about that mental image). Dedicated websites can attract an audience who are just interested in weather, puzzles, gossip, financial news, sports, TV listings or classifieds. New services like Facebook and Twitter act like editors, surfacing the types of story that people want to read based on what their friends like (Facebook’s social graph) or based on what people they share interests with like (Twitter’s interest graph).
All of this is best experienced on a smartphone, with its multimedia display, ability to dig deeper and instant sharing. The Little Printer is a poor substitute for that.
What it is, though, is an eye-opener for traditional media.
- “Oh, the Littler Printer. It means people who want their news on paper can filter, curate or source it themselves.”
- “It’s like a newspaper, printed on demand, edited by algorithms or social/interest graphs”
- “Oh, it’s solving the distribution problem AND personalising the content.”
- And “Oh crap, that’s what we’ve been failing to see”.
I don’t think that the Little Printer will make a commercial dent. But if, by showing traditional media how modern technology can be used, it shows media businesses the threat that reliance on an outdated business model based on the limitations imposed by physical distribution poses to their very existence, it could do us all a great service.
The Little Printer shows how smartphones and wifi can make our home a better place
The thought isn’t new. I’ve seen breathless magazine features about the wired home of the future for a decade or more (although it’s likely to be a wireless home these days, not a wired one.)
The Little Printer, though, enables you to control a physical device in the home through your smartphone. I, for one, would love to have a similar system for my heating, so I can leave it on low when I know I’m going to be out and turn it up again on my way home. (Sorry, Pippin, you’ll just have to find a warm corner to curl up in.) It opens the doors for an easy way to connect household appliances to the web and to control those appliances from a smartphone.
We’re not there yet, and this post is in danger of turning into one of those breathless magazine features I sneered at two paragraphs ago. But the Little Printer does show how we don’t need expensive cabling or complex equipment to make that a reality: just a Wi-Fi router, a cloud-based server and a smartphone.
Not cheap, but available, standardised and relatively simple to set up. Berg has done us all a service by making something that showcases this potential.
I suspect that the killer app is not a newspaper printed on a strip of paper the width of a till roll though.