Over the last couple of years, the term Content Strategy has begun to gain traction in the web domain. Content strategy is defined as “the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance” (Kristina Halvorson: “The Discipline of Content Strategy“).
A fair definition – but let us not forget: words have power.
When we define something, the words we choose affect that which we label. If the words are ambiguous or misleading, their actual meaning will rub off on that which we described, changing it to match the description. (I bet you never thought you would hear a paraphrasing of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied to the field of content strategy.)
A few days ago, a colleague (David Friar, of Cognifide) pointed out to me that this term we are using is rooted very firmly in the web 1.0 world. It fails to describe what we really need to be talking about when we preach “content strategy.”
Content: That which is contained.
The term content strategy is a legacy from the world of print-based and other flat media. Everything that constitutes such presentation is contained within the publication. Whether it is original or externally-sourced content, it exists – in that delivery – entirely within the physical bounds of the output.
In the interconnected electronic world, this concept of content is obsolete by a few generations. Your web site – or blog or whatever – is not made up only of content. Its structure is a combination of original material, duplicated material, referenced material, links and external utilities. Two of these are indeed content; the others: the extent of your site.
You use material within the scope of your publication that belongs elsewhere; hosted videos, web-service application, supporting material. It is someone else’s content, not yours (ok, there are fine lines here with respect to ownership, but the principle stands). Things get even more interesting when you realise that your content is almost certainly someone else’s extent.
One thing that can be safely said about all these data is that they constitute information. By name, a content strategy deals only with content, that which you host internally to your publication; it is less than half the picture. What we should be talking about is Information Strategy: how to create, manage and govern both content and extent, and their life-cycles in the wider realm, beyond this electronic publishing medium.