Non Linear Square 2

The Future is Non-linear

I was a guest presenter in a webinar last week. For people to watch  live, there were three requirements: (1) fill out a registration form, (2) install a plugin to use the online meeting service, and (3) most importantly, commit an hour of time. In this era of waning attention spans, these are high hurdles. In fact, they were insurmountable for a large percentage of the would-be attendees. After several weeks of promoting the webinar, we ended up with a few dozen participants. I’d feel disappointed, but I know this is in line with overall trends.  Most stats are published by companies that are biased towards promoting webinars, but even On24, a webinar platform found in 2013 that only 42% of registrants attend a webinar.   Here’s On24’s key findings:

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(Note this data is from 2012; If you know of more recent reports, please let me know in the comments)

It’s likely that even people who make it through the hurdles and attend webinars drop off before the end because they don’t have the time to commit to linear experiences. “Linear” may not be the first word that comes to mind to describe webinars, but that’s the way they’re structured. They start at a specific time and attendees need to stay connected for an hour or so while it takes place. You’re not going to find many C-level executives willing to do that.

Let’s take a step back to the beginning of the world wide web — essentially the beginning of time for millennials. The whole reason that we call it “the web” is because everything is interconnected. Every word and be linked to another document, image, sound, application or hundreds of other types of content. The “http” that we recite are part of URLs stands for “hypertext transfer protocol.” Built into Tim Berners-Lee’s architecture is this brilliant idea of non-linear navigation or “hypertext.” Over the past two decades, nearly all media has been disrupted by non-linear consumption. The same way you can jump quickly from site to site on the internet with hypertext, the DVR has totally changed the way that people view television. Pause. Record. Fast forward. These are capabilities that prior to 2000 were unheard of. If you missed a show you missed it for good. Now in addition to time shifting and bit-by-bit navigation, people can now “place shift” with their mobile phones by consuming media anywhere they happen to be.  Everyone — all consumers of all types of media — expect to have the convenience of time shifting, place shifting and hypertext-like navigation.

So what does this mean for content marketers? It has far-reaching implications. First, your content needs to be consumable in pieces. Your prospects and customers need to find the subset of content that’s relevant to them quickly. This applies for documents but also for media that we typically think of as inherently linear — video and audio. Companies that produce podcasts need to index segments of their shows. Similarly video needs a “jump-to” index so people can find what they’re looking for. For example, take a look at a presentation created with KnowledgeVision. In the KnowledgeVision format, you can move from slide to slide with an index and transcript of the video and audio track. A busy businessperson — (a somewhat obvious and redundant term) — is able to quickly find relevant sections. That’s not to say that there won’t be people who watch the whole video or presentation. Of course many people will watch a 5 minute or 10 minute video, but with longer form content the drop off rate after 10 minutes is dramatic. Motion Source has a post about YouTube retention rates that illustrates this point. After 30 seconds nearly 50% of the people who started viewing the video click away to something else.


Now let’s return to the example of the webinar.  Webinars are still an effective form of marketing.  However, they need to be produced with nonlinear consumption in mind.  That is, they need to be archived and indexed so people who couldn’t carve out the hour required to attend can watch it whenever they want (and whatever section they want).  You can read a blog post about the webinar we hosted last week called “Establish a Troll-Free Connection to Avoid Disruptive Users.”  The post summarizes key points and includes a link to an archive of the webinar.  It’s SEO friendly and accessible at any time to anyone. Here’s a link.  I’m sure many more people will view our webinar in archive format than were able to view it live.    This technique is used well by online training courses such as those provided by   Each course is organized by chapter with simple navigation to different parts of the course.  Similarly BrightTalk is building a huge repository of webinars that can be replayed at any time.  They’d don’t offer indexing yet, but it’s easy scan slides using the the timeline below the video.  And as noted above, a KnowledgeVision combines video, slides, footnotes, a transcript and chapter navigation in their player.  The option to time-shift and view whenever, wherever is an essential aspect of the non-linear concept.

Here are screenshots of, BrightTalk  and KnowledgeVision to illustrate this point:

Content Marketing course by Dayna Rothman on



Replay of presentation by Barry Feldman on BrightTalk.



Presentation by Michael Kolowich using KnowledgeVision:



By creating and organizing media into segments these sections of content can be used as “lures” to draw people in; they can be cross promoted and shared on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social network to drive more awareness and traffic.

So there’s good news and bad news. The good news is people are hungry for relevant information and they’re turning to companies for the content that solves their questions. The bad news, is they don’t have large blocks of time. As a content marketer you need to keep this in mind as you create and publish content to meet the expectations of people living in the non-linear future.