Faulkner’s Practical Web Strategies for Attorneys: How the Web Will Continue to Change How We Do Business in 2007

Two years ago I wrote about what was going to be BIG in 2005. It was a fun take off on the VH1 BIG in 2004. With technology and the web changing at an ever-quickening pace, I thought it would be good to predict what I think is going to be BIG in 2007. So let’s get started.

Content Syndication – My News, My Way

Two years ago I predicted that RSS was going to take off. It did, but not in the way that it should have. Many factors contributed to the lack of wider adoption of RSS, but now the playing field has changed. Publishing companies are seeing the value in RSS and how content can be syndicated to other websites, and more importantly, delivered directly to readers. The software companies have also caught-on to the power of RSS and are integrating the RSS format directly into their applications. Much of this can be attributed to the explosion in the number of blogs over the last five years. Microsoft will help expand RSS adoption with the introduction of their new operating system Vista, and with user migration to Internet Explorer 7, released several months ago. Both have integrated features to facilitate the use of RSS.

RSS will be the vehicle for syndicating content, but it won’t just be text and images anymore. The popularity of content such as video and podcasts will continue to grow this year. OPML will also start to gain some traction as well.

OPML stands for Outline Processor Markup Language. It will have many useful application as a content syndication vehicle as it continues to develop. The most common use at the moment is to bundle a number of RSS feeds into one file, which you can then in turn import into another aggregator. So if I wanted to share my Legal Blogs folder from my news aggregator with you, I would export the folder as an OPML, allowing you to import that file and use all the feeds to which I am subscribed, via your own aggregator. This saves both of us time because I monitor about 50 legal blogs, and it would cumbersome to copy and paste each feed URL into a document to email to you.

The Social Web Becomes the Regular Web

Last year was all about the “social web.” In 2007, we will see how the social web will be absorbed into the “regular” web. Blogs and websites will for the most part become one and the same. We won’t differentiate them as much because blogs will continue to be integrated into mainstream websites and their core features, such as blog comments and RSS, will become an accepted part of all websites. This integration has already started with the re-launch of Time.com, along with use of these applications in mainstream media sites such as the WashingtonPost.com and NewYorkTimes.com sites, to name just a few. These publishing giants have taken social web concepts and placed them directly into their respective websites. These features include a blog aggregator which is summary content from many sources (Time.com), columnist blogs with comments enabled, podcasts, and a “save and share” feature on all their articles which allow you to bookmark or share links to articles via social communities like Sphere, Newsvine, Digg, and Del.icio.us.

The next generation of the Web will continue to prominently include online community building features. Websites like Second Life will continue to change the way we interact with each other. Companies will no longer just be on the Web, they will interact on the Web. The legal community will, to a certain degree, follow suit. Advertising rules and regulations will continue to evolve regarding how blogs and websites are treated by the state bar associations [Link].

The Mobile Web

For the web design and development community, the mobile web has been talked about for years. Ever since the first cellular phone could access sports scores we’ve been thinking about how it will evolve into something more robust. Now with newer cell phone technology the rest of the world it is starting to see it become reality.

With access to the Internet beyond just dial-up and broadband, mobile phone companies and Wi-Fi hotspots have enabled us to use devices other than a laptop to access the Web. Smartphones were the first step into this arena. Business leaders and the legal community grabbed on to these devices for the ability to do more than make a phone call. Soon webmasters started to see odd browsers visiting our sites, like the BlackBerry engine. With the recent introduction of other mobile devices such as the iPhone, and ultraportable PCs like the Oragami, accessing the Internet will no longer be as difficult as it was before. If someone wants to find a lawyer, or locate an office of your firm, the barriers to that task will be quite small. Internet connectivity will continue to be readily available, which means that you, and your firm’s website, will always be on (as well as the expectation that you will respond to your clients in a much faster fashion). In 2007 you may want to consider having a mobile version of your website available for visitors to use.

Convergence of Web Applications with Desktop Client Applications

First there was the desktop client application, and everyone was happy that they could write and edit documents faster than using a typewriter. This was fine for many years, but as business and the legal community continued to grow and computers were widely adopted, the limitations to this environment became more apparent. Collaboration between multiple people or multiple offices was difficult. What version of an application was Tom using, vs. Paul? Incorporating multiple changes from multiple platforms was a full time job. The web transformed that with the introduction of web-based applications like 30 Boxes, Writely and Google Spreadsheet (both now officially called Google Docs), and Gmail. We quickly embraced the ability to collaborate on documents instead of coordinating fifteen emailed versions of the same document among three people. And the price has been right, and help is free.

Being able to access documents and information stored on the web is great, but what if you wanted to sync those documents with a laptop so that you can continue to work on a plane trip? You would have to coordinate with your colleagues that you were doing this and not to adjust the document while you were gone or you had to merge the changes back into the document when you landed. Now we have begun to see the limitation to having fully hosted documents. What was once a great solution has become constraining again because even if the Internet is much more readily available, doesn’t mean that we are always on the Internet to access our documents. So now a new challenge has to be surmounted.

Sometime in 2007 we will see the ability to sync those online documents with an offline version. I believe the need for this feature will be the next logical step for many of these online software providers, and one that the users will value. While many are free services, new features will be added that will require a fee and I’m sure some, if not many, will pay the price to have this convenience.

Other Continued Trends

The three aforementioned items above will not be the only technology changes in 2007. Other trends will continue to gain momentum, and could find the tipping point of wide adoptions this year as well. Examples include:

  • Podcasting and online videos
  • Online communities and social networks
  • Web access to basic legal services

This year looks to be another exciting one for technology, and how the legal profession will leverage applications to improve and diversify services. The web is offering users around the world the ability to connect, share, and do business with one other in real-time — all the time. If you think I’ve missed something, or have a BIG trend you see forming in 2007, let me know so we can track it together. I’ll write a follow-up article to this at the end of the year to see where we landed.

Posted in: Blogs, Faulkner's Practical Web Strategies for Attorneys, Gadgets, Legal Technology, RSS Newsfeeds, WiFi