Future Content…I’m Content

 

 

The buzzword I keep coming across lately (and I am not a fan of buzzwords) is “future content.”

dilbert-buzzword

But I have to admit, this one sticks with me because it’s not an industry-generated term that is used to sell stuff or a new word packaging an old idea this time. I keep stumbling across this term, I think, because those who are savvy in the industry are (finally?) grasping the notion that we are writing not for the now, or for the past, like we once were, but we are truly writing to an audience that is ahead of us, and that our writing will span media and must address that. I mean MUST address that.

Future content is not a particularly new idea, though. It’s not like this emerged on the stage in 2016 and I am revealing something that you should congratulate me for. No, sadly, I am not that innovative. It’s just that the idea is sticking with me right now because I am thinking a lot about content strategy and where it will lead me. In my own work, for example, I am poking a lot around in a project that quantifies writers’ work and evaluates and measures product and rule-adherence while at the same time examining SEO, incoming links, and a few other metrics that are of varying levels of importance to a range of stakeholders.

In some ways this aligns with, and in some ways this competes with, my interpretation of real content strategy. My understanding of what I need to do to build great content is this:

  • Customer research
  • Competitor research
  • Company research

…and likely in that order

So I’m talking Content Strategy. But how do we define content strategy with an eye toward future preservation? Way back in 2009, Daniel Jacobson, who is now the VP of something called Edge Engineering at Netflix, wrote a guest post for NPR since he was then the Director of Application Development there.  Jacobson’s post is a great look at a concept called COPE – Create Once, Publish Everywhere, and it’s a great concept that definitely tunes into future content because who wants to work three, four, five times as hard to cover all platforms accessed by the customer, and yet we are responsible to all of those platforms. Jacobson points out a well-designed pipeline from the Data Entry Layer to the Presentation Layer where at the data entry layer there are people and automated functions, but at the output, or presentation layer, there are six different outputs, with presenters ranging from NPR to station modules, all pushing content to users in an array of settings. According to Jacobson, COPE is a philosophy that encompasses areas of content management systems (CMS), a way of thinking about content more broadly. It is important, then, to think of content as fitting within a whole distribution system. Jacobson was keen to distinguish COPE from a Web-publishing tool, even in 2009. (This explains why he is now at Netflix, folks.)slick-tablet

Looking back to 2009 does not detract from looking to the future. Navigation that leads from data entry to presentation and results in well-organized content that users can access from a laptop, a phone, a tablet, or whichever device they happen to find useful at the moment – that is future content. Content that is driven by text, video, sound, some combination of all three, or a weaving of two or an overlap – that is future content. Linking in media when it is needed, and knowing when it is not – that is future content.  It’s useful, accessible, usable, understandable, customer-driven, and attractive. (I saved the best for last there.)antique-book-18

If it looks good, feels good, is easy to find and use – it’s future content. Now isn’t it odd that it seems to me that with each new concept in writing: the sheaf of paper, the bound book, the glossy magazine, the e-book, the slick tablet, the iBook and whatever comes next…each one is future content? The thing that makes it valuable is whether it is well-written, understandable and worth reading? What makes it worthwhile is whether or not it is worth my time? Does the content deliver against objective? Does it stand out among all the other content?

So I truly need to go back to determining if someone has done his or her:

  • Customer research
  • Competitor research
  • Company research

Right? And that is content management. For the future.

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3 thoughts on “Future Content…I’m Content

  1. What changes into the ‘future’ is the medium – from an ancient palimpsest to the latest e-reading device, they’re all just containers that holds the words. As the media changes so do the tools and production processes used to fill them with words. The media DOES matter though – few people bought their Kindle, Nook, or Ipad as a means to read their specific novel, rather they bought it for the reading device itself. If that gets them to read more novels they didn’t target otherwise, the media device made that happen, not the novel content. So good or future content in any age is just a tree falling in the empty woods unless its in a container that people are picking up to use.

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  2. You are 100% right, Michael. But…how many Kindle books do you have downloaded that you discovered are just “bad books?” Probably more than a few. I know I’ve got some. Would they be better as graphic novels? I know I can think of three on my e-reader that would make fantastic ones, but the rest are still just “bad books.”
    I can think of one of those books that might – might make it as a movie, but in pure word form (as it rests today) it’s just poorly written.
    So, did those writers understand their audiences or did they just hope for the best?
    There’s a reason that some stories are screenplays, am I right? Some are serialized, some are short stories…and some should never be on a page at all.

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  3. For me, the key to developing future-ready content today lies in breaking everything down into micro-structures for adaptation and reuse. A website is no longer a series of pages but blocks and fragments – titles, features, taglines etc – that change according to the viewer and context. A book is no longer a book but millions of fragments that can be reordered to become…what? A movie? Virtual reality? We can’t predict future devices but we can make content flexible and malleable enough to fit seamlessly with that device when it arrives.

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