Saturday, March 10, 2012

Content Strategy

At SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, they can fill a large ballroom to capacity with a crowd eager to learn more about Content Strategy. And they can do that while there are dozens of other things going on at that moment. When the organizers started the interactive part of what was first a music festival and then added a film festival, they didn't quite know what interactive was. As one of the presenters reminded me, what interactive actually was at that time was CD-roms. Anybody remember those?  Now the interactive portion dominates the event, and a lot of the talk is about social media, and future methods of content distribution.

So I was wondering what I was doing attending this packed panel session on content strategy, not even being sure what the term meant. I was having difficulty thinking of content as a strategy. These content strategy experts talked about how we have to think about the structure as well as the content of content. That's actually not such a new idea. If you think about magazine publishing, for example, you might start with the structure first. Articles have to fit within a certain page capacity and layout. In the digital world, it might be easier to think of content first, since the structures should be infinitely flexible, and the capacity is infinite. Constrained by old ways of thinking, however, we still organize digital content in more traditional-looking formats. No matter how we publish, however, we still have to think about the structure or container for whatever we are creating, even though we can't always control it, as content moves about the web in different forms. I started thinking that what these experts were talking about might apply to what I'm doing.

Content strategy also involves thinking about how content supports an organization's goals. Even if all I'm doing is writing a personal diary for however many people might want to read it, it still needs a theme and purpose to be of any value. And since I've also been thinking about how to improve a website for a mediation organization I'm involved with, I realized that content strategy is just a fancy name the techies here at the conference have for what anybody who creates anything needs to think about to make their creations more accessible and valuable.

South by Southwest is a great place to learn about the future--the future of the web, the future of journalism, the future of how people are going to access what you're reading right now. One discussion I attended talked about how independent web publishers are worried about becoming the slaves of facebook and twitter and the like, which have become such dominant forms of disseminating content. Another panel addressed the future of long form journalism in an age of short attention spans. Surprisingly, there seem to be more outlets for such in-depth content in today's world. But the content still has to come from the same place it was generated when Homer or Thucydides were creating content. The difference is that we can now distribute content electronically, instead of orally or manually. Now it's easier and cheaper than ever to make it public, there are more ways than ever for people to find it, and it can get disseminated faster than ever before.

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