The Documents days are Numbered

The more I look into the future of where things are going with information the more I see documents and files as a mechanism for portability.  It’s about rendering a document in a certain way and less about the information.

What is a document?  Is it that restrictive format that has a bunch of text in it with all that formatting to make it presentable?  Sometimes they get corrupted.  Not so much as the late eighties, but really what is a document is it the file?  Is it the format?  Is it the information inside of the document that is what really defines it?

The .Doc and .DOCX today is simply a description of the text and layout of the information in the file.  The binary .doc format is restrictive and proprietary.  The .DOCX and it’s future supports a more open way of reaching in and grabbing the data and displaying it with different layouts, fonts, and other fanciness.

As we start to look at file types as portability and display and not about the information that is contained in the document, you can see why it’s much more attractive to see things rendered on the web with a Wiki or in a blog.  Not only is it not read only, but it is alive.  The information can easily be changed and manipulated.  With Google docs and the new Office Web Applications, Word, One Note, Excel and PowerPoint.  Using these rich applications on the desktop will be like using Live writer to produce blogs.  It’s simply the offline rich authoring experience and viewing experience that is what the word processor is and it’s not about creating the .DOCX or the .PPTX but about the information.  Editing, or updating can easily be done online or through the thin or rich client.  The thin client will be to simply create the text and manipulate the look and feel (fonts), but with my limited design abilities I’d more likely to inherit someone’s more superior template and inherit their designs and fonts.  The best table editor ever has to be Excel. 🙂  It’s such a versatile application.  It will likely take a lot longer to eliminate or make Excel a commodity on the web, but what happens in word is becoming a commodity and most of what most people need you can now achieve in a web editing experience.

The .PPTX and the .DOCX will be used for portability and passing on the information, but how long will we really want that?  Sharing our intellectual property is something we want protected.  If we really want to share the information we’re going to want to squirt it into the ecosystem of the web where it can have a life and continue to live… or take a snap of it and produce a PDF or XPS.  A format where it has captured the essence of where it lives.

I wish I had the stats, but I think you could easily qualify that information put into a blog will be more likely to be read over and over again and quoted much more easily and even rendered 5-10X as fast.  Putting information into a .doc is like throwing something in a closet.  The closet might get opened again, now put it in a folder and it’s like putting it in a filing cabinet in a closet. Nest those more and more and it’s likely to never be read again.  SharePoint to the rescue and search might make those stats more likely to be found.  Meta data and all that jazz will again increase the likelihood of it being read again.

Compliance is a driver still, but that niche is getting pushed aside as businesses are trying to simply survive.  Compliance itself will need to find a place in this paradigm.  It will find itself built into the policies of SharePoint as a service or any SaaS solution.

There is a paradigm shift happening with the things that the social world brings to document management and collaboration.  The social tagging, social networking and information sharing and what I’m finding is document formats are becoming counter intuitive to the online sharing.  I know this is a stretch, but those of you who are involved in what’s happening in the interwebs will eventually stretch to the corporation, and major transformations are happening.  You might think this is going to take 20 years and the recession or whatever we’re calling this will slow it down…  The Opposite is true.  The recession will increase the need to produce and consume information more quickly and have less reliance on more heavy weight document management.  Those requirements will be sucked up by more agile systems with systems figuring out what needs to be archived or more highly managed.  The workflows themselves will be more automated and seemless again much less heavy weight.

Documents aren’t dead, but I do expect major shifts in how we look at files and their limitations for true collaboration and information sharing and portability. 


What is typical today will be changing.  It will take a long time to end what is the doc and that process.  What do you think?

Let me give you an example

Information use to be on paper (still can’t kill those 100%) we called those documents

Then we were required to digitze that information and scanned all that in remember OCR into PDF

Next Step is content management systems, essentially getting stuff in rows and columns rendered in web UI

More and more we’ll see stuff in Blogs, Wikis, and web rendered pages of various types backed by publishing systems.

Don’t worry it will take a long time to kill the Document Management system 🙂 and what we call a document will continue to evolve.

Then the mandandate whs to put it in pdf

Spence Harbar’s Document is *not* Dead

Mike Watson’s Nod of Agreement – Doc is Dead Get use to it

Dan Usher’s Doc is going to be around for a while


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