On FutureBook, Shane Rae wonders if the education publishing industry is failing to innovate as it should. He describes the legacy model of education publishing, which involves prototyping, trial, feedback, and development to make sure that what gets published is completely finished before it sees print or CD-ROM, forms of media with a long shelf-life. The problem Rae sees is that this often leads to trying to match competitors’ products rather than better them—creating the thing that users want now, rather than what they might want down the road.
Now, in the age of online applications we can iterate as we go. Instead of crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘I’ on the way to perfection we can get ‘near’, release and test user response. More excitingly we can innovate by releasing features that we think will be well received without testing them at all and just see what happens, confident in the knowledge that we can change things back quickly should our innovations go wide of the mark.
Of course, as Rae notes, big publishers tend to have institutional inertia to match their size. It’s hard for a big organization to change and innovate as quickly as the market demands.
It’s an interesting approach Rae is positing. It seems that the ease of change in the digital world seems to promote the idea of just throwing new things out there and trying them to see what will happen. And that can be a valid way to innovate. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of nifty new features in software come with nifty new bugs to match. Even the MMO I play, City of Heroes, spends several weeks exhaustively testing each new upgrade to the game, trying to minimize unexpected effects before it brings them live.