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How Cards Are Quietly Transforming The Web

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Editor’s note: Robert Fan is the co-founder and CTO of Sharethrough.

Nearly three hours a day. That’s the average amount of time you and I spent on our phones every day in 2014. Our dependency on mobile devices for information has forced the design of the web to change. Netizens have come to expect mobile content is optimized in a way that brings them exactly what they are looking for front and center.

Cards, a technology that collapses online content into digital containers for fast and easy consumption, was born out of this shift and has begun a transformation across the web that will be crowning new winners and losers throughout 2015.

Front Runners: Google and Vox Media

Web publishers have battled for years, but the final prize has remained the same: visitors and engagement. The more time people spend on a site or app increases the likelihood they will evolve from visitor to advocate. In turn, the longer a site can keep people browsing, the more ads will be served, seen, and converted.

Google’s higher-than-average retention rates are in many ways a byproduct of cards being at the foundation of their recent innovations. Cards help fix people’s desire to migrate across the web, as they shift attention quickly from one thing to another. They are shortcuts designed to fill immediate needs, saving time and providing information in an easily digestible format while keeping people engaged where they are.

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In a world where people are suffering from information overload, cards are being used to reduce complexity. For example, Vox Media has developed Card Stacks which simplifies general trending news stories and topics into an easily digestible set of articles. The design is simple, clean and intuitive, unveiling a different “layer” of the news with each card.

Through Card Stacks, Vox is able to increase engagement and retention. For example, instead of just reading one article and going to a different site, users can scroll through a reporter’s whole stack of articles on a certain topic by simply clicking on the arrow. This allows Vox to be a “one-stop-shop” for information on many topics, ultimately keeping readers on the site longer.

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Up-and-Comers: Advertisers and Social Platforms

While Vox Media and Google have focused on using cards to increase engagement, card functionality is evolving at a rapid clip, and some advertisers are beginning to test the waters, especially within the feed. Cards are a natural fit for advertising within apps rather than interrupt the user experience with banner ads or pop-ups. The technology allows developers to create seamless, uninterrupted monetization that respects the audience.

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For example, Acura’s recent partnership with Twitter allowed consumers to configure their 2015 TLX all without ever leaving the tweet. By keeping the entire interaction within a user’s feed, Acura doesn’t lose the 50 percent of users who would have dropped off if forced to click out to their website. Cards are making platforms more versatile, which is important for brands with a growing and diverse content repository.

Laggards: Utility Sites and Apps

It wasn’t long ago that consumers would visit a weather site to get the weather. Now, a simple search for “weather” will provide a seven-day forecast inside a card from Google. Utility sites like Weather.com and Fandango.com that rose to prominence during the early web are now fighting an uphill battle for relevance, and cards that offer the same value in a fraction of the time will force them to adapt or die.

Even just five years ago, people were downloading an “app for that” but all that has changed. According to Nielsen research, most people use fewer than 10 apps daily and 55 percent of those in the same survey used between one and four apps a day. Consumer behavior has shifted from wanting apps to wanting answers. Cards are quicker, easier and less of a commitment than a free download.

Cards Everywhere

The utilitarian role of cards is vital, as people face a deluge of content. Early pioneers like Facebook and Google have used them to simplify our lives and bring relevant information within a flick of our fingertips. Their success has already inspired advertisers and publishers looking to capitalize on the possibilities of cards.

This year, we’ll see cards begin to move from a relatively unknown technology to a cornerstone of mobile and web design. Soon consumers will be booking travel destinations, buying tickets to shows, and checking prices — all without ever leaving a publication, social site or app displaying that information within a card, ultimately transforming how we use the Internet.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin