Web2Summit: Better Printing from the Web (Way Better)

Surprising factoid of the morning: Web pages comprise 48% of printouts on home printers; word processing documents run a distant second–the reverse of just a few years ago. HP shared this revelation during an unusually good sponsored session at the Summit today. (Bonus info: HP derives usage stats from a panel of Internet-connected printers that it mines for output data much the way Nielsen monitors televisions.)

While most companies at the Summit are interested in digitizing paper processes, HP’s Imaging and Printing Group–which estimates that the company has sold 400 million output devices, including printers–is looking at that 48% share of printouts and developing technologies to turn bits into atoms. It’s an interesting problem because as Antonio Rodriguez, director of research and development for HP’s Web-to-print team, put it, “When people created the Web, nobody thought about printing.” And thus the 11-page, image-riddled printout when all you wanted was a single paragraph containing directions.

Rodriguez was previously the founder of Tabblo, a Web-based printing company acquired by HP in March. Tabblo is a nifty site for storyboarding photos, but more compelling are the company’s tools that help Web publishers and readers control printouts from other sites. Rodriguez showed a service embedded in an AOL recipe site: when you click to print a recipe, instead of spewing out a half-dozen pages of nav bars and ads, you can choose to create a one-page PDF that has sucked in all of the relevant content and ignored the rest. And you have a choice of formats–either an 8×11 notebook sheet or a page that folds into a 3×5 or 4×6 recipe card. You can print your PDF on any printer, of course, HP or otherwise.

While I’m hesitant to post such an uncritical description of the Tabblo Print Toolkit, I was excited by the possibilities technologies like this present–particularly for traditional publishers who are trying to figure out how to offer content on the Web and in print. And I liked Rodriguez’s vision for a horizontal API that attempts to do for output (i.e., printing) what, for example, Amazon’s S3 does for storage or PayPal’s API does for payments.

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