Full disclosure – I love Karen McGrane.
If you’ve ever seen her speak you’ll know she is an honest and compelling advocate for all the good things in content strategy. (If you haven’t seen her speak, watch this).
With A Book Apart I think Karen has found the perfect publisher for her first book. The series has built up a strong following – one which should allow Karen’s message to reach beyond the content strategy world and have an impact on anyone who works in digital.
This little volume is small but deceptively powerful. You’ll find inspiration and instruction on making content truly adaptable. It might even permanently change the way you think about your work in content.
There is no primary channel
McGrane gets it out of the way on the first page: this book is not just about mobile. Mobile is the wedge that we will use to force open the door to structured, user-centered and nimble content.
Before the mobile revolution, it was easy to deny that we really need to make our content lean and structured, but the proliferation of new devices is now making that impossible. We can only design so many stand-alone apps and mobile websites, and create so many maintenance headaches, before we realise the importance of a clean content base for everything.
The first chapter makes an excellent case for why we should get our content ready for the multichannel world. And it goes further – we are short-changing our users if we only present them with a cut-down experience or one which we guess is “appropriate for the mobile context”.
Maybe the need to make every item of content available on mobile will still be a hard sell with clients in the medium term. It can seem tempting to only consider simple tasks and those which are clearly done “on the move”, but Karen McGrane makes a strong case for why this just will not cut it.
We’ve all experienced it intuitively. Yes, our mobile users want to find their nearest store and check stock levels, but what about the student looking for careers information or the shareholder looking up the annual report on the train?
The rest of the first half of the book talks frankly about the problems of “forking” – splitting our content across different channels – and the nightmare of making changes multiple times across sites and mobile applications.
McGrane is also interested in the limitations of our current web CMS systems and how they tie us to design templates and limit our productivity through bad user experience.
I think every content strategist needs to focus more on this aspect of great content. Choosing the right CMS and implementing it as a usability project is a missing link in many content chains.
Last week, Rachel touched on this in her post Strategy on the Inside. Content Strategy will only be successful if we deal with the internal problems that prevent organisations from producing the best experiences for their external users.
So the solution to managing in the multichannel world? Adaptive content of course.
Karen outlines what makes adaptive content and how it can be achieved. She goes on to explain the strategy and planning required, the importance of thinking ahead and the danger of relying on imperfect data.
It seems obvious really – of course we shouldn’t rely on our measurements of current mobile experiences to learn what users would ideally like to do. But we often do just that. Karen McGrane to the rescue again, saying what needs to be said.
Architecture, people and processes
The second half of the book is a great practical outline of how we can make adaptable content happen. By this point you will be thoroughly convinced. I know I was.
Karen covers writing and editing, information architecture and analytics through the lense of structured content. She encourages us to focus on the content “package” instead of the page.
I think this is a challenging but liberating concept for everyone from content managers and producers to web designers. Finally separating content from presentation is good news for everyone. Writers can focus on the message, designers have clear content components to work with.
Karen McGrane has written a very important book, at a time when structured content is gathering momentum.
The challenge is a big one, but if you weren’t convinced before you will be after reading this book. And not only that, you will be armed with evidence and techniques to move things forward in your organisation.
[Editor's Note: You can read the first chapter of Content Strategy for Mobile at A List Apart]