Tag Archives: reuse

Content as a dynamic resource

Few content contributors understand how technology transforms content.  They focus on getting content to fill an existing product such as a newsletter or mobile app, but don’t see the other potential ways the content could be used.  As raw material content has many possibilities.  Publishers don’t always appreciate these possibilities.

Historically, content professionals have focused on the desirability of separating content from its presentation so that content can be managed more effectively, and visual design can be managed more consistently.  Content is stuff marked up in XML, while presentation determines how the audiences actually see the stuff.  Recently, content professionals have been writing more about content behavior.  Mark Baker for example champions a concept he calls “content engineering” and has written a terrific article on the need to separate content from behavior.

Authors have trouble thinking about content as raw material because they tend to view publishing as an event, rather than as an ongoing process.  I want to propose three pillars to help to clarify the many possibilities for content.  These pillars are

  1. content stock
  2. content presentation
  3. content behavior

Content stock is what many people just call content.  The distinction I am making is that the stock of content is always available and ready to morph into something else, even when it appears finished and ready to be consumed.  Content stock is not an end product, but a resource, much like stock photography.  It may be created for immediate or later use, or acquired from third parties.  Content stock is mediated by APIs sourcing content from elsewhere, and CMS and DAM platforms managing content assets owned by the organization.  Metadata gives content stock meaning that is intelligible to computers, which determine which parts are most relevant to an audience.   Examples of content stock include

  • articles
  • text streams such as comments in social media
  • text descriptions from catalogs
  • tabular data
  • audio such as interviews and music
  • video
  • imagery such as photos and graphic illustrations
  • user profile information
  • display ads
  • re-usable slogans and messaging

Content presentation determines how the selected content is presented to end users.  There are a number of ways that code can change how content is presented.  Even though code separates content elements from their presentation, the relationship between content and presentation is often a source of grief because digital content behaviors differently from analogue content.  Code can, for example, provide some amazing transition effects, at the same time it struggles to offer some of the layout precision found in print media.  Content presentation can influence the meaning audiences derive from content.  Subtle clues about the importance and relationship between items can be conveyed through hierarchy and the separation or association of different content elements.   Publishers can use presentation frameworks to change how different audience segments view or experience content.  Some content presentation frameworks include

  • visual styling frameworks, codified in CSS
  • media format frameworks, such as text to speech capabilities or image animation
  • language and wording customization, such as applying audience specific terminology
  • data visualization frameworks, such as widgets that can display variable data
  • templates for content presentation for different devices
  • emerging frameworks such as CSS filters and WebGL

Content behavior design is about what content is presented, rather than how it is presented.  It treats the content to deliver has a variable that will change according to the circumstances or audience needs.  Content systems can adapt content to address changing needs of audiences, and in so doing, become much more anticipatory.  Recommendation engines are an example of content behavior design.   Some other examples of content behavior design include

  • varying the length of content through automated summarization or content augmentation
  • location-aware content that changes depending on the user’s location
  • time-adaptive content, showing content based on time of day, date, or season
  • content offering real time data, such as data driven journalism
  • content about user activity such as trending content or sentiment
  • query-driven, criteria-based content, such as IF content has certain characteristics, THEN find notable related content with similar dimensions
  • calculated content, such as displaying inflation adjusted values

Moving beyond COPE

Focusing on content behavior moves us a step beyond COPE, the “create once, publish everywhere” paradigm first developed at NPR.  The original idea for COPE was to get “the same NPR story displayed in a wide range of platforms.”  COPE is a revolutionary concept that most organizations are still struggling to deliver.  It is a good fit for a news organization like NPR, which creates content serially and generally does not revise content once it’s published.  But for other publishers, especially those creating evergreen content or looking to re-use themes and assets, it can be more useful to focus on the process of content assembly than a discrete event of content publishing.  Their stock of content may contain many stories, not just one.  Content behavior design allows elements in one’s stock of content to be utilized repeatedly and be available on demand as needed.  It can also provide a richer content experience for audiences.  The more dynamic the content, the more dynamic its presentation can be as well.

— Michael Andrews