A short while ago, I attended a Content Strategy event: nine people each gave a five minute talk – an intense format that can throw up some real gems. On this occasion, the gem came from Chris Atherton (@finiteattention), and is a concept I can only describe as the principle of Bridging Content.
The background to Chris’ presentation: design agency Numiko was selected by the UK government’s Time to Change initiative to build a digital engagement strategy aimed at younger people. Considerable research was done with the target audience: both with and without direct exposure to mental illness and its impact. According to Chris, this resulted in thirteen – yes, 13 – personae. Read more of this post
At CS Applied last month, Rahel Bailie held a workshop where she explained the work she has been doing on the City of Vancouver’s web site. She outlined a triage approach to content auditing: what to keep, what to discard, and what needed reworking.
The model is beautifully simple. And if done right – with sign-off from the powers – it provides a perfect tool with which to test new content people come up with. Anything that fails the test would not have survived the original triage, so should not make it onto the site.
The four levels of the value proposition
What is the goal of your site? What are its goals? This is described in lofty terms; it is board-speak. It may be to sell more product, to service a community or to provide thought leadership. This is the answer to the Why of your site’s existence. It is not interested in implementation or approach; it cares only for concepts. Read more of this post
The two days (1-2 March 2012) are wrapped – it is time to take stock of the learnings that came of them.
If I had to choose one word to sum up CSApplied2012, it would be intense: pretty much a non-stop roller-coaster of information and ideas; inspiration and levity. We managed such a flow of real-time tweeting that the event hashtag - #CSA12 – peaked into the top ten Twitter trending topics world-wide and draw the attention of the spam-bots. A quad-stream format meant there was more than enough content to keep anyone busy, and sometimes too many choices to make: does one go for the technical stream, or the localisation? It’s a hard life trying to take it all in.
As with my CS Forum write-up, I will go for recurring themes rather then a blow-by-blow account of the sessions I attended. Read more of this post
Is your content having an identity crisis? Does it know what it is?
When elements of content become individual entities, separate from the environment in which they are presented (which is the whole point of a CMS, but that’s another story), the need for awareness of these dependencies becomes critical to the “management” part of the CMS.
Most vendors will tell you that their systems are aware of content dependencies: if you create a new page, with an image in it, publishing the page will also publish the image. Hey, the page is aware of what its dependencies are; what more could you want? Read more of this post
“When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For the last fifteen years or so, we have all been living this proverb. It seems like every second problem business has come across in the last sesquidecade has been that nail, and the hammer has been computers.
The following is a tale of a client, who approached me for some integration information for a new system they are having built. It covers what I tried to explain to them. To my knowledge, while the person I was talking to understood and agreed with me (and had the same ideas) they are still going ahead with the project.
The client is a commodities association. Every few years, they host a major industry event: a dinner. Association members book tables, then invite guests. The client, intent on making this event prestigious, prints fancy invitations, place-settings and a guest list.
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Content management, if done right, bears parallels with quantum physics. (Please stick with me: I will keep this high-level, and only maintain the analogy for a paragraph.)
The principles of quantum physics are confusing. Basically, though, they relate to the smallest elements that can be described, which have a subtle property: their actual state (where they are and what they are doing) can only be determined – is, in fact, only realised – by the presence, the contextual forces, of the elements around them; those they interact with. A single particle can be in multiple places at once, in different phases, until something needs to react to its presence (e.g. it is observed).
When developing (or customising) content systems, we need to give our information structures the granularity of quantum particles, and the flexibility of uncertainty.
Why quantum content?
One of the base principles of any CMS worthy of the name is that content is separated from its presentation. An element of content is reusable. In order to achieve proper reusability, elements of content need to be the smallest that can be formed whilst maintaining identity. Read more of this post
When people discuss content, another word is bandied about with impunity: context.
context [kon-tekst] n. the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.
dictionary.com, based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.
Everyone is in agreement that we want and need it. When we communicate with others, it is vital that we take context into account. Context serves two purposes:
- to provide a baseline for understanding, the assumptions of meaning
- to make the choices to communicate the appropriate message to the other party, in the best possible way
I am going to deal here with context in the second of these forms: the process of determining how to communicate with another party. Most people do this instinctively in person (a salesman reads his customer’s body language and responses, and adjusts his pitch accordingly). But when we move context management into the digital realm – when we have to hand these decisions over to a computer – things get tricky.
Context is a big problem; it is convoluted.
Read more of this post
I thought I harped on about it enough myself, but earlier this week, the theme was repeatedly brought up at Content Strategy Forum 2011: Content Management Systems are selected too early in the process.
This is how the story goes:
- Marketing decide the web site isn’t performing well enough
- Marketing instruct IT to fix it, providing some high level requirements or a pre-selected “solution”
- IT issues an RFP for the new CMS
- A new CMS is selected based on the vendors’ sales techniques
- Designers and IAs are brought in to design the new site
- The CMS vendor’s development partner builds the site (including pushing back most of the new ideas in design)
- Marketing are given their new site and reminded that they need to populate it before it goes live tomorrow
- 6-18 months later, repeat
Read more of this post
London, 5-7 Sept 2011, CS Forum came to London in its second incarnation. A lot of attendees (I couldn’t count) from 20+ countries descended on the Mermaid Centre (near Blackfriars). Talks, parties and workshops were the disorder of the day.
I am not going to try giving a talk-by-talk breakdown of what happened. With multiple streams, I couldn’t be everywhere at once. For an assortment of slides and published notes, see http://lanyrd.com/2011/csforum/coverage/. Instead, I’ll cover the general themes that came out of my own notes.
Content Strategy is bigger than that
Content Strategy is – in many people’s perception – a new field, especially when referred to within the digital realm. Eric Reiss (@elreiss), however, pointed out that content strategy has been around for just about as long as we have been communicating; the only people who seem to have trouble with implementing the concept are those on the digital bandwagon.
Lisa Welchman (@lwelchman) made the point that content isn’t a something in its own right. Content is everything (as in: everything is content). What you view as content in your particular situation, and the needs surrounding it, depend entirely on how that something-being-seen-as-content is described by those who own or deal with it.
Diana Railton (@dianarailton) demonstrated how content strategy is a pillar supporting communication strategy, which itself supports business strategy. A digital content strategy cannot be divorced from other parts of the communications agenda. Read more of this post