The global spread of mobile technology and what it means for visual storytelling



The global spread of mobile technology is reshaping the media economy.

By 2017 there will be 5.2 billion mobile users worldwide, up from 4.3 billion currently, and the number of mobile Internet connections will exceed the number of people on the planet (albeit with a different distribution). The proliferation of smartphones, laptops and tablets has made the screen the primary access point for much information and is helping to drive the growth in online news sources. In the US, smartphones have outpaced almost every other technology in the speed of mainstream adoption, and are the backbone of most media interactions.

Instead of one technology killing off and totally replacing another, people are now getting their news through a combination of different new devices and sources. Nearly all media organisations produce mobile content, and those like The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal are seeing one-third of their readers coming in via mobile devices and the number is growing rapidly. The proliferation of devices for accessing the web enables and encourages multiplatform consumption.

The visual is at the heart of these developments. According to a Cisco executive, the “dramatic adoption” of mobile technology means “we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well.” That is because mobile video is the biggest single component of mobile data traffic – it now accounts for 51% of this traffic and will rise to 66% in 2017.

Mobile feeds social. The growth in mobile is fuelling the number of Americans – not just the young – who access news via social networks, which increased from 9% in 2010 to 19% in 2012. In the UK, social networks are equally important, with the Reuters Institute reporting that they provide the gateway to news for 20% of users.

These developments mean being mobile and social is essential for every visual storyteller. That does not mean every story has to be designed for mobile only. It does mean that to have the chance of reaching the largest and widest possible audience, at least some element of every story, or some version of every story, needs to be readily accessible on mobile devices and easily shareable on social networks. Storytellers need to find their audiences, and audiences in the new media economy are increasingly found, at least in the first instance, through mobile and social.

This is the sixth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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