It’s been fun few years, but my content modelling blog post series has come to an end. I started it to amplify what others were saying about structured content, and to make it accessible. When I started, there was gap: everyone knew structured content was important but there weren’t many places to go to show you how to approach it.
Content modelling is important.It’s about designing content together, as part of a cross-disciplinary team. Not from the tech up, or from the business down, but as a joined-up, sustainable team across the organisation.
A content model is a communication vehicle.Content modelling is the process to facilitate that communication. Value content modelling over the content model.
As I close out this series, I want to review where we’ve been, what we’ve learned and start to think about what comes next.
Last week I had the good fortune to attend an unconference session run by Chris Satchell. He’s ex-CTO of Nike. He understands customers. Now as Chief Product Officer over at Comcast, he led with this thought provoking one-liner:
Your brand is your customer journey.
Think about that for moment.
We’ve all heard that your brand is not what yousay it is but how others perceive it. Brand perception boils down to how your customers engage with you. The journeys you take them on. It’s the sum total of all customer experiences – for better, for worse – across all touchpoints. Your brand is your customer journey, but they must been connected.
The challenge lies in mapping out these interconnected customer journeys. They are hard to create in the first place and really difficult to sustain ongoing success. Continuously changing over time, connected customer journeys require so many people across the business to collaborate. But that is exactly what success looks like for those companies building superior brands. The ability to design and deliver connected customer journeys is a critical component of competitive advantage in digital today. No longer an optional, connected customer journeys are the new norm.
At Content Strategy Forum 2013 in Helsinki, in a great presentation on “Deblobbing in the Real World”, Jeff Eaton said something that resonated deeply with me:
No model survives contact with real content.
I whole-heartedly concur. But, something was still not right. A week later, all became clear. I needed to tweak the sentence, just a little, to make things right with the world again. So here goes:
No model survives first contact with real content.
Better. Definitely expand “first contact” to mean the first few encounters with real content, but it’s an important distinction to draw out for anyone designing structured content. Why you ask? Read the rest of this entry »
Please watch this two minute video. It does an amazing job of describing the utility of APIs using a deck of playing cards.
Content APIs are on the rise because we need ubiquitous access to content. For a while now, I’ve felt like our content management systems are being deployed as Roach Motels (see resources at the end), where content checks in, but it doesn’t check out. Forever locked into a single (web) channel with no easy way out.
A couple weeks backs, I explained why content APIs are becoming critical to those in the content business. They help mitigate the Roach Motel problem. The big guns are already reaping the rewards of their early investments in content APIs. Take Netflix, after just two years of deploying an API, it’s seeing a x37 increase in API usage, the majority of which is through internal consumption.
Today, let’s walkthrough through a couple of examples to drive home the point that APIs lower the bar to making content accessible: available to people, processes and products that potentially do not to contribute to the production or ongoing management of the content.
Have you been hearing a lot about APIs recently? Or maybe the Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) thinking that came out of NPR? It doesn’t matter whether you have or haven’t really. What’s important is that we understand why APIs are on the rise.
Why did the big guns invest heavily in APIs and are now reaping serious benefits. Netflix, NPR, Twitter, Facebook, Expedia, Guardian, Google, to mention a few, have well established APIs that grant third parties, that’s people like you, me and other companies, controlled access to their functionality and content. That’s right, these companies have created a playroom filled with shiny new toys (content and functionality) and have given us the key (API) to play with them. But why?
What value do these companies see in APIs? Why do they continue to invest in them? And how do I get me some API action?
Today you’ve been asked to create some meaningful HTML. What’s that you ask? We’ll get back to that.
However, you knew that this day would come and prepared for it. You have a very simple, but workable content model jammed packed with meaning and structure. You’ve already done the hard content modelling work and identified the key content types for your business. For for each content type, you have:
A one line description of its purpose.
A list of its attributes and a one line description for each.
A clear understanding of the relationships it has with other content types.
Open and transparent agreement, across business, UX and technology, on all of the above.
So, back to the meaningful HTML task. HTML was never designed to convey meaning. It’s a display language. However, search engines, web crawlers and browsers need meaningful content to better display search results and deliver awesome customer experiences. They can’t do that with a display language. Microdata, RDFa and Microformats are popular Internet specifications that add semantics to HTML to make it meaningful.
The amount content we produced in 2011 alone exceeded the content created in all previous years combined. ALL previous years combined! We more than doubled the size of our digital content universe.
That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if all that content could get everywhere it needed to be today. It can’t. Instead, it’s trapped in the applications (CMS, DAM,Word) and/or channels (e.g. Web, Email) that created it. This is not a sustainable business model for many companies that create and publish content to better engage with their customers.
It’s stupid, costly and uncompetitive to create great content and not invest the time and effort to make it structured and meaningful. To make it future friendly. And yet the rate of growth for digital content continues to rise exponentially, more than doubling every couple of years. It’s time to stop creating more content (junk) and start making content work more.
It’s a question being asked a lot these days. By clients, the industry, fellow colleagues, creatives, technologists; the list goes on. So in June I attended an EConsultancy course on Digital Content Strategy delivered by Catherine Toole, CEO of Sticky Content to find out from a seasoned content strategist. It was a great one-day overview that provoked a lot of lively discussion. Then I got the slide that listed just some of the things a content strategist does. Take a look:
competitor content audit
tone of voice
content style guide
content production schedule
Delivering and maintaining large web sites is hard. It requires the business team to communicate what they want and for the technology team to deliver what they need. The two groups are known for not getting on. For a web project to succeed, they must eat from the same table, talk the same language and reach consensus. Communication is the key differentiator between success and failure here. It’s essential that when someone in the business says product that a developer not only understands what a product is but can implement it. Now, business and technology folks don’t share the same view of the world (which is a plus). However, not enough effort is invested to align these two views during the project(which is a minus). Think about it. The business is entrusting their most valuable assets, their content, to software developers that may or may not get it! We don’t have to live with great content divide.
What can be done?
I’ve found the best way for the business and technology teams to reach a common understanding of the subject matter is for them to collaborate on a shared view of the business domain. Have meetings, discuss stuff, card sort, write documents, role play, build prototypes, and so on. All important stuff. Keep doing that. But there needs to be something that captures the single source of truth that is a shared and mutually agreed upon representation of the business. The essential communication link between the business and technology team. That something is the content model.
How can we get better?
I’ve already spoken about content modelling and your essential first steps. I won’t go over that again. If you takeaway anything from this post, takeaway this.
Every CMS product implements its own content model that its developers understand. On your web sites, Your developers are translating your requirements into this content model, and rightly or wrongly, filling in your missing gaps.
Are you happy to hand over your business decisions around your content to them? How do you know if they have got it right? How do you know if its wrong? We all know the cost of fixing problems is prohibitively more expensive downstream. A short conversation upstream could have completely avoided the creation of major problems that tend to arise downstream.
Parking the details for now, the content model needs to be started upstream (analysis phase) and extend into downstream (development and testing phases) activities. The content model empowers the business, provides a common vocabulary for your content, and hooks in a number of downstream folks with a vested interest in managing your content going forwards. Maybe then we can start crossing the great content model divide.