ICC Day 2: What We Heard

Rachel Lovinger   February 19, 2011

The second full day of the Intelligent Content Conference was also filled with interesting talks and demonstrations. Patterns started to emerge around the topics that are important today. In this post, I’ll sum up some of the trends that I saw across the three day event.

Single-source publishing

There’s a growing need to create content once and publish it in a number of different formats, configurations, and platforms. Authoring standards such as DITA are designed to add structure to the elements of content (in DITA’s case, technical documentation) so that they can be segmented and reconfigured and still retain their context in the overall body of content.

The tools that support this kind of publishing include component content management systems – which have been around for a while – and some newer tools that are designed to produce multi-platform content for specific purposes. Several of the conference sponsors are companies that make component content management systems: SDL, Author-it, and Vasont. In the realm of more targeted authoring tools, I had the chance to play around with a platform called LearnCast. It’s designed to allow people to create educational content – including video, audio, and interactive elements – that’s compatible with any mobile platform.

Content will be everywhere

Several of the speakers observed that content is breaking out of its containers (an opinion shared by us here at Scatter/Gather). And of course, people increasingly want to access digital content on their mobile devices: phones, tablets, netbooks, etc. Single-source publishing tools are going to be indispensible in making that possible for organizations with limited resources, but there are also decisions that need to be made.

To really streamline content production, organizations should separate the content from platform-specific layout or functionality. But this could mean missing out on some of the desired features of apps. As a result there’s a growing tension between the benefits of creating device-specific apps and the benefits of creating digital content in platform agnostic standards, such as EPUB. As the platform wars heat up, do you sacrifice features? Or reach? Or will we develop ways to get the best of both worlds?

Enhanced publishing

Let’s hope we develop ways to get the best of both worlds, because paging through a PDF on a tablet is not going to cut it for most people. They want interactivity, social integration, collaboration, and links to other sources of information. They want a good experience.  Eric Freese (Aptara) gave an overview of some of the enhanced eBook capabilities of the EPUB 3 specification, the first public draft of which was just recently released for review. Unfortunately, many features that are currently available, even in version 2, aren’t supported by the eReaders on most tablets.

Content needs context in order to be intelligent

Without context, content is just information. It may or may not be useful in a given situation. With context, you can deliver content that’s actually relevant. This means being aware of your users’ needs, which could be broad or very state-specific. Derek Olson (Foraker Labs) gave an inspiring demonstration of the breastcancer.org iPhone app and discussed the kinds of research and design decisions that went into creating an app that delivers highly targeted content to an audience with very specific medical and emotional needs.

Context also means being location aware, especially in the case of mobile content delivery. Localized content applications can be powerfully engaging when done right. This was the topic of a lively presentation and discussion led by Mark Fidelman (Mindtouch). The discussion was focused less on the capabilities and more on the privacy implications of providing a lot of personal information to corporations in exchange for discounts and rewards. People have different comfort levels, but many people in the room (including Mark), felt that we’re already giving away a lot of personal information all the time, we might as well be compensated for it in some way.

I was also pleased to hear several speakers discuss the need to tag content with meaningful metadata in order to make the most of all this contextual awareness. Rich, semantic taxonomies, properly structured and applied to the content, help make sure that information gets served up when and where it’s most useful.

End-to-end content strategy

Though a number of useful tools were demonstrated at the conference, it’s important to keep in mind that buying a tool doesn’t, in itself, solve all of an organization’s content problems. I like the way Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, expressed it during the wrap-up: “Vendors talk about ‘end-to-end solutions’ but they don’t seem to understand what ‘end’ means.” Generally, they define the “end” as the point when their product is no longer involved in the process.

In fact, several speakers had presented their view of the content lifecycle. Rahel Bailie, for example, identified a four stage process: analyze, collect, manage, publish, and then back to analyze again. Other speakers proposed models with three stages, or even six. But however many stages each person envisioned, they all agreed that it’s a cyclical process. And while certain tools may help with one or more stages in the cycle, no tool covers all of them. For example, a content management system isn’t going to help determine user needs or business priorities. There are tools that can provide data that will support those activities, but they still require human insight and a solid approach to developing a strategy.

In other words, use tools for things that tools are good at, and let people do what people do best. And involve your audience when you can, as well as your employees. Content creation is happening at such a massive scale now, any successful effort will probably require some combination of editorial effort, automation, and user/social contributions.

Next: What’s next?

At the end of the conference, the organizers, Ann Rockley, Joe Gollner, and Scott Abel, led a discussion with all the conference participants on what we had seen and what’s next. In my final post on ICC11, I’ll talk about some of those upcoming trends.

See also:

ICC Day 1: An Appeal for Content Agnosticism

Rachel Lovinger   February 18, 2011

The Breakdown: On Day 1 of the Intelligent Content Conference, Rachel realizes that there’s something major, but essentially imaginary, getting in the way of interdepartmental content conversations.

On the first full day of the Intelligent Content Conference, we were treated with a range of talks about how to create and use intelligent content for different platforms and purposes. As a content strategist who attends a lot of conferences, much of this was very familiar, but with a bit of a twist because many of the people involved come from a technical communications background.

Yesterday, during pre-conference workshops, I found myself wondering why more content strategists weren’t in attendance. I even commented in my wrap-up post that, from the very beginning, the emphasis here has been content strategy. Many of the things being discussed are the same topics that are covered at all of the web content, content strategy, and UX conferences I normally attend.

The fact is that there are several self-identified content strategists here. But as far as I can tell, many of them come from a slightly different realm than the ones I’m used to encountering. Listening to some of the conversations taking place in between sessions, I’ve noticed a recurring focus on “technical documentation” and in the conference itself there’s a lot of emphasis on standards and tools that are specifically designed to support that type of content. It’s the kind of emphasis that brings to mind the aphorism “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Now, please excuse the Stephen Colbert “I don’t see color” moment we’re about to have here, but it has suddenly dawned on me that I’ve been living in a world of content discrimination and I don’t understand it. For a long time now I’ve been hearing people say things like “We’re talking about WEB content” and my brain responds “Right, we’re talking about content.” But the point has just hit home that we’re not always talking about the same thing – some of us are talking about marketing content, or journalism content, or enterprise content, or technical documentation.

I realize there are differences, sometimes important strategic differences, but there’s also much more crossover than people are generally talking about. There’s a lot that these different factions of content professionals could learn from each other, but instead people are reinventing the wheel in distant silos. Often these silos are imposed by the structures and culture of an organization, but that’s no reason why we can’t foster more cross-pollination when we step out of the office and travel to conferences.

Which brings me back to the ostensible topic of this post: the conference I attended today. There were many great talks covering mobile content apps, social content, taxonomy development and usage, the content lifecycle, digital publishing, collaboration, content curation, and the tools that can make it easier to do all of these things. There was a good dose of discussion of structured content, and many mentions of an authoring standard called DITA which is used to structure technical documentation, but aside from that any of these talks would have been right at home at any of the web design conferences I’ve been to.

Towards the end of the day I had two interesting conversations that helped coalesce my thoughts about the things I’ve learned at the conference so far. One man mentioned to me that although he had seen several case study presentations, he still hadn’t seen evidence that any of this was having a broad impact on an organization. I suggested that it wouldn’t be possible to have a broad impact on an organization while viewing everything through the lens of tech docs. In order to have that kind of impact, an organization needs to develop an integrated content strategy that covers all of the types of content they maintain – tech docs, intellectual capital, marketing communications, editorial assets, etc.

The second conversation was with Mark Lewis, contributing author to DITA 101. We discussed the standard and the type of content it supports. I know that DITA can easily be expressed as XML, but I asked him whether anyone is using it in conjunction with other content standards (such as Dublin Core and RDFa). This led to some speculation about how DITA might become part of a wider solution set. One option would be to expand DITA to cover more content types. But retrofitting like that tends to water down the original intent of a technology. The other option, which I prefer, is to figure out how to make DITA interoperable with the other standards already in use. That way it still plays to its strengths, and becomes an integral part of a solution that can cover the entire range of an organization’s content.

There’s a lot of potential for content professionals from different backgrounds to learn from each other. I encourage everyone to go to a conference that seems slightly adjacent to what you normally do. If you’re a design-oriented content person, go to a CMS or technical communications conference. If you’re a tech writer, go to a UX or web design conference. It’s the best way I know to get new perspectives on the things you think you already know.

See also:

Intelligent Content Conference: Workshops

Rachel Lovinger   February 17, 2011

The Breakdown: Yesterday, February 16, 2011, before the Intelligent Content Conference officially began, there was a day of Pre-Conference Workshops. Here’s a summary of what I heard. 

Ann Rockley, Intelligent Content Eye-Opener: Content Strategy

In the first workshop, organizer and conference founder Ann Rockley answered the question “What is Intelligent Content?” In brief, it is content that is:

  • Structurally Rich
  • Semantically Categorized
  • Easily Discoverable
  • Efficiently Reusable
  • Dynamically Reconfigurable

Now, for anyone who still thinks this is a conference that’s just about the technical side of content, I would like to point out that the subtitle of this opening workshop was “Content Strategy.” And indeed the rest of the talk was about exactly the kind of practices we content strategists often do – gathering business requirements, auditing and analyzing content, defining the structure of content, identifying a reuse strategy, and creating a taxonomy.

I’m excited about potential crossover between the “technical communications” community and the “content strategy” community. There’s a lot that both can learn from each other.

Joe Gollner, Implementing Intelligent Content Solutions

Next up, co-organizer Joe Gollner provided his take on how to make these strategies into realities. In this talk he got down to brass tacks a bit more, but framed the discussion in language and concepts that would be accessible to business owners, as well as content professionals and technologists. He talked about balancing business considerations, opening communication channels, assembling the implementation team, managing risks, addressing legacy content, processes and controls, and battling entropy and “barnaclization” (which is a great way of describing scope creep).

Gollner described “Intelligent Content” as requiring a balance between knowledge, technology and business. I have long held the same belief (if by “knowledge” you mean messaging, communication, or editorial goals). But, based on my many years working in the User Experience group at Razorfish, I would also include user needs in that mix.

Gollner had several practical suggestions on how to get to implementation, several of which are described in this post he wrote last year called Seven Steps to Intelligent Content. The rest of his tips would be hard for me to cover without just recreating his entire deck here, so let’s hope he posts it online at some point.

David Clemons, Please, Turn Your Mobile Device On!

In the afternoon there were three very interesting sounding workshops taking place at once: one on developing a corporate social strategy, one on developing a mobile workforce, and one on the ROI of DITA.

I decided to go to the mobile workshop led by David Clemons. If you followed the #icc11 Twitter stream during this part of the day, it might have seemed like the social workshop was the only one going on (but, then, it makes sense that the social-oriented people would tweet a lot, right?). Trust me, though, there was a lot going on in the mobile workshop as well.

Clemons discussed the need to publish content to a wide variety of mobile platforms, and some of the considerations for doing so. Then he demonstrated one of the tools offered by his company, Push Mobile Media. It’s a tool called LearnCast which allows people to create and publish cross-platform mobile courseware pretty easily. We got into small groups and each group created mobile courseware and then tested it out on our various mobile devices. It was great, after a day of listening, to do some hands-on work with content.

The pre-conference workshops were a great intro for the conference. See also:

Send Your Content to Grad School

Rachel Lovinger   December 15, 2010

Imagine what your content could do if it were smarter. (image via drewsaunders)

When I started my web career, the content issue that got me most fired up was findability. My white whale: knowing that the information I sought was out there on some web site – or even knowing exactly what web site it should be on – and not being able to find it.

Now, more than a decade later, we’re still grappling with these problems. At the same time, the landscape has gotten so much more sophisticated. We have smart phones, location aware services, natural language search tools, and the wisdom of the crowd. But is our content keeping pace with this increasingly demanding environment? In most cases, no.

So I’m really looking forward to Intelligent Content 2011, a conference started by Ann Rockley. The event, now in its third year, has been expanded to three days of workshops and presentations about all the new technologies and strategies that will help content overcome the things that have been holding it back.

But what does “intelligent content” mean? To me it means content that contains cues that indicate what it’s about, who it’s for, and the context in which it would be most useful. You could say it’s content that’s ‘self aware’. These qualities may not be evident to readers, but it makes it possible to present the content in more meaningful and flexible ways.

The theme of this year’s conference is “All Things Delivered,” focusing on how content in all its various forms reaches its audience in a timely and cost-effective way. After an opening workshop on intelligent content by Ann Rockley and conference co-producer Joe Gollner, attendees will have to make a difficult choice between workshops on social media (Robert Rose & Michael Weiss), mobile (David Clemons), customer experience (Samantha Starmer) and DITA (Mark Lewis).

The following two days will be filled with talks and demonstrations. I’m particularly looking forward to Anthony Allen’s keynote on Digital Publishing, Scott Abel’s session on Intelligent Social Networking, the X-Fest Technology Showcase, and Paul Trotter’s talk on Future Trends in intelligent content. And there are many other interesting looking talks on personalization, structure, process, application development, publishing, and more. Check out the complete program and see which topics appeal to you.

I’ve wanted to go to Intelligent Content every year it’s been held, but the past two years I wasn’t able to make it work with my schedule. This year I’m very excited that I’m not only going to the conference, but will also be one of the official bloggers. See you in Palm Springs!

The Communo-editron™ 2000

Rachel Lovinger   October 20, 2010
Robot arm, writing textWhen will robots start writing all the copy for us? (Image via Mirko Tobias Schaefer).

Yesterday I spoke at the Smart Content Conference. In one of the morning talks, Jeff Fried of BA-Insight emphasized the point that analytics, semantics, and machine learning are powerful technologies, but not perfect technologies. As such, he advises that business innovators should be realistic about their capabilities.

Over the course of the day, there was much talk about the interaction of these technologies with social information, and about how these tools could be used to help people (such as content creators and call center reps) to fulfill their responsibilities more efficiently. At the end of my presentation on semantics and publishing (based largely on the Nimble report) someone asked, among other things, which analytic or semantic tools could serve to automate the creation of ongoing stories.

My answer:  this is not a task that can be 100% automated. To be fair, she may not have meant 100%, but I wanted to reinforce this point. There are tools that can help – semantic media monitoring tools for research and tracking, machine-assisted tagging tools for more thorough metadata, and many others – but these are still just tools. For optimal results, they should still be wielded by a person.

In fact, by the end of the day-long conference, I had started thinking about how to combine the content creation efforts of machines, experts, and crowds to benefit from the strengths and overcome the limitations of each. Maybe it will be the topic of one of my future conference presentations.

Busy Times for Content Strategy

Rachel Lovinger   May 27, 2010

The buzz is only as good as the community making it. Image courtesy of Kaibara.

The Breakdown: A lot’s been going on in the Content Strategy community. Rachel takes a moment from her packed schedule to talk about recent events, including April’s Content Strategy Forum in Paris.

Hoo-boy, we’ve been busy. And from the looks of things, we’re not the only ones. Interest in Content Strategy has been growing at an amazing rate, and there are lots of new voices joining the public conversation. Here are just a few of the recent examples:

And all the usual suspects have been pretty active too, but there isn’t room here to capture all of that. Just check #contentstrategy on Twitter to see the latest events and posts from across the web.

In a busy conference season, last month’s Content Strategy Forum stands out as an exciting milestone. Thirteen months earlier, in March 2009, about twenty people gathered for the Content Strategy Consortium in Memphis, and it was thrilling to see the range of people who were there to discuss this new discipline for an entire day. Just over a year later, 170 people gathered, from 18 countries across three continents, for a two-day event in Paris. The first day consisted of 4 sold-out workshops (including the one on “Understanding Content” which I co-led with Karen McGrane). The second day had three tracks of talks, which often led to some dfficult decisions.

If you weren’t able to be there in person, many of the presentations are on SlideShare, and videos of some of the talks are also available online. And discussions have already begun about the details of the next one. Which begs the question, where do we go from here? I have a few thoughts:

  1. The content strategy community has officially become international. We should do what we can to keep that momentum going, encouraging and participating in events that are local, global, and virtual. I hope to see you all at Content Strategy Forum 2011!
  2. There are still a lot of people just discovering content strategy and the value it brings, but it’s time to deepen our conversations about it. At CS Forum, there was a clear hunger for case studies, and more information about techniques and practices for solving specific content problems.
  3. Continue spreading the word to a wider audience. Luminaries of the web design industry, such as Jared Spool and Jeffrey Zeldman, are talking about Content Strategy and that’s bound to help attract the attention of people who have been struggling with digital content issues and don’t yet know that there is an entire discipline emerging to help them deal with it. We should all be getting out there, speaking at a variety of conferences, and seeing who else we can convert.

What else do you think the discipline should be doing?

Content Strategy UK & London IA Present

Matt Geraghty   May 3, 2010

Speaking in London,  Razorfish content lead Rachel Lovinger was part of a panel with Karen McGrane (Bond Art + Science) and Jeff MacIntyre (Predicate LLC).   Local IAs, web developers, and web content professionals met in the basement of a pub to discuss Content Strategy Manhattan Style.  Watch part 1 above and see the rest of the event here.

Content Strategy Stories from the Frontline

Rachel Lovinger   March 23, 2010
Surviving SXSW — One foursquare badge at a time.

Here’s the news from the front lines at SXSW: Content is here to stay! Sure, there were people calling for content management systems to rest in peace, warning that social media can destroy your business model, and decrying the death of the New York Times. But, in fact, people are still enamored of digital content in all its forms. They’re talking about who’s making it, who owns it, who wants it, who has it and who doesn’t, how it gets made, where it is, and even how it can live on beyond its creators.

There were nearly 800 panels, lounges, book signings, parties and other events at SXSW interactive this year. Here are just a few of the highlights of my conference:

Understanding Content: The Stuff We Design For – Let’s start with a little shameless self-promotion. I had a great time giving this talk with Karen McGrane (@karenmcgrane) of Bond Art + Science. The slides are posted on Slideshare and you can listen to the audio of our talk on the event details page.

Are Content Farms Good or Evil? Yes. – The answer is not as simple as the title jokingly suggests. As a content strategist, it’s easy to get riled up about this topic, but step back from the hyperbole (sweatshops? sharecroppers? hardly) and the sad truth is that the main offense of content farms is probably going to be a new spike in mediocrity.

Offering Your Content in 100 Languages – June Cohen of TED Conferences, Leonard Chien of Global Voices Online, and Seth Bindernagel of Mozilla discussed how they work with devoted global communities to translate their projects into local languages.

Writing Web Content For A Living – With panelists like Erin Anderson of Brain Traffic and Ian Alexander of Eat Media (as well as Tiffani Jones of thingsthatarebrown and Dan Maccarone of Hard Candy Shell), it’s no wonder that this panel ended up being as much about content strategy as about web writing.

Future of Context: Getting the Bigger Picture Online – Some technical difficulties at breakfast prevented me from getting to this discussion until it was nearly over, but what I caught sounded like a lively and interesting discussion. Hopefully the audio recording will be online soon, and in the meantime the panelists have created a website (The Future of Context) to continue the discussion online.

If you didn’t make it to the conference (or even if you did and couldn’t make it to all the panels you wanted to see), many audio recordings of the talks are already on the site, and many more will be added soon. (Go to the A-Z list of panels, and check the details page to see if your chosen talks have been posted yet.) And if you still can’t get enough, you can always go back and re-read our pre-SXSW Q&A series.

Did you attend SXSW 2010? What were your favorite panels and why? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Parlez-vous Content Strategy?

Rachel Lovinger   December 1, 2009

strongwaves_rev

Riding the Content Strategy Wave: not nearly as dangerous as you might think. (Image via fishfoot)

Mesdames et messieurs, allons à Paris !

Earlier this year, the Content Strategy community put a stake in the ground at the IA Summit’s Content Strategy Consortium, which – as far as I know – was the first ever official meeting of a sizable group of content strategy professionals from a wide range of companies and organizations. This coming April, CS has will have its large-scale International debut.

Content Strategy Forum 2010 is a 2-day conference that’s been organized by STC France and STC TransAlpine. The schedule is packed with professionals who are practicing Content Strategy in France, Ireland, England, Canada & the United States. Workshops will take place on the first day – including one on Content Analysis that I’m co-leading with Karen McGrane of Bond Art + Science. The main conference day includes keynotes by Rahel Anne Bailie (Intentional Design, Inc.) and Kristina Halvorson (Brain Traffic; author of Content Strategy for the Web) and enough enticing talks that attendees are bound to have trouble choosing (check out the whole program for details).

The hosts are European chapters of the Society for Technical Communication, a professional organization for people who are involved with communicating information about technical processes. It’s a fairly broad discipline that incorporates many research, analysis and communication practices, and has a lot in common with Content Strategy. The intended audience for the conference is “anyone who develops, manages, or delivers content within their own organization or for their clients: user experience designers, information architects, business analysts, technical writers, web project managers, documentation managers, translators, web marketers, practicing content strategists, and those looking to break into the field.”

2009 has been a breakout year for Content Strategy, and this conference heralds some major steps forward in 2010: sharing methodologies and perspectives with another content-oriented discipline; expanding the CS community beyond the US/English-speaking Web; and introducing more delicious, delicious pastries. I hope to see you there!

The Content Wild Child: Your New PR Nightmare

Matt Geraghty   October 6, 2009

The Breakdown: Our own Rachel Lovinger gave a presentation at the MIMA Summit about what can happen when you don’t have a clearly defined content strategy. She showed several examples of common problems, and talked about content best practices that could have helped avoid these problems. The Summit will be posting video of all the presentations soon (including great keynote talks by Jackie Huba and Seth Godin), but for now, explore Rachel’s slides above.


Razorfish Blogs

Events

  • SXSW Interactive

    March 7 – 11, Austin, TX
    Several of our contributors will be speaking this year. If you’re going, say hi to Rachel, Robert, & Hawk.

  • Confab Minneapolis

    May 7-9, Minneapolis, MN
    The original Confab Event. Rachel will be there doing her Content Modelling workshop with Cleve Gibbon. Get details and we’ll see you there!

  • Intelligent Content Conference Life Sciences & Healthcare

    May 8-9, San Francisco, CA
    Call for Presenters, now open:

    intelligentcontentconference.com

  • Confab for Nonprofits

    Jun 16, Chicago, IL
    Another new Confab Event! Early Bird pricing until March 7:  http://confabevents.com/events/for-nonprofits

  • Content Strategy Forum

    July 1-3, Frankfurt, Germany
    International Content Strategy workshops & conference: csforum2014.com Call for speakers now open!

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Scatter/Gather is a blog about the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. Contributors are all practicing Content Strategists at the offices of Razorfish, an international digital design agency.


This blog reflects the views of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of Razorfish.

What is content strategy?

Oooh, the elevator pitch. Here we go: There is content on the web. You love it. Or you do not love it. Either way, it is out there, and it is growing. Content strategy encompasses the discovery, ideation, implementation and maintenance of all types of digital content—links, tags, metadata, video, whatever. Ultimately, we work closely with information architects and creative types to craft delicious, usable web experiences for our clients.

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It’s an iterative data clustering operation that’s designed to enable rich browsing capabilities. “Data clustering” seems rather awesome and relevant to our quest, plus we thought the phrase just sounded really cool.

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