Sunday, July 07, 2013

What is the future of content?

I guess I have said it enough times - I am in a rather privileged position within the WCM space, as I get to see a lot of what really is implemented by our customer base (mostly in the highly regulated financial industry), I get to play with magic crystal balls, and I get to hear about what experts and analysts think content people should be doing now, and in the future.

And I admit, I am extremely confused, because the pieces don't fit together.

Let me try to explain what I mean with this.

On the one hand, we have simplicity. The people who select WCM systems (please note that I am not saying "Content Editors") want a "Facebook-like experience" creating content. They want the simplicity of WordPress or perhaps Blogger (which I use) when creating content.

On the other hand we have compliance and content governance. People want to control content life cycles, trace back the origins of content from its inception to its inclusion on a given page, to its transformation into a Call To Action on the home page, to its decommissioning a year later into the "outdated content" bin.

And finally, on the last hand (yes, I know those are three hands, get someone to lend you one), we want content re-purposing and targeting. We want content that can be used across all channels - Web, Email, Digital Signage, Facebook, Twitter, IOS/Android Apps, Google Glasses and what not.

And this is where I get confused.

Simplicity means one thing - less flexibility. Sure, you can make very reusable content with WordPress, but then you're putting the onus onto your editors to use the correct html mark-up for your content. I agree that a lot can be achieved with some smart plug-ins, but how do you prepare for the next channel that you don't know about yet? And especially, how do you create truly "re-formattable" content when you want simplicity, which by its own definition mixes content and layout?

And governance. Governance is impossible without metadata. Usually, it requires metadata about your metadata (ever tried defining a release policy linked to content models?). Again, sure, we can try having your editors enter that metadata in their simple-to-create-content web tool. Doesn't look so simple anymore, does it?

Creating content that can be re-purposed for various channels, including those that don't exist yet, and allows for personalization is where the whole thing falls apart in my view.
How can you have content that was simple to create - web based, WordPress like interface, loads of drag-and-drop widgets and SEO optimizers and navigation managers and whatnots - and have that content still comply to a strict schema, like those specified in Sure, you can look at semantic engines - like Apache Stanbol - to help your editorial team get their content right, but how is that going to help you determine which headline to show on your iPhone app?

Don't take me wrong, I'm not trying to say that creating content should be hard - on the contrary, it must be easy. But creating content that can live beyond the constraints of a web page requires thinking beyond drag-and-drop and easy-to-use (actually, having to use your mouse when creating content is a terrible thing and completely breaks the flow of work) - you have to think about content modularity and new delivery models.

My view on the future of content is that layout and look-and-feel will disappear, and consumers of your content will care about nothing else than the content itself, the layout will be based on their preferences and their own metadata, with smart apps - in whatever is the device-du-jour - taking on the task of formatting that content for display. Don't think RSS, think Open

So, unless I'm terribly wrong (which is always possible and known to have happened many times), the emphasis on Customer Experience Management requires more content structure, not less. And more content structure, today, means that editors must have an abstract view of content, focus less on how it looks and more on how it's structured, so that the context in which the content is displayed can adapt to the customer's expectation. And to do that, we have to think beyond pages and re-think content as individual entities that can be manipulated and formatted for display in whatever device or app the customer may chose to consume it in. And that my friends, is against the view that content editing should be a simple, word-editing-like experience. Just like word editors were built for a world in which your main goal was to print that document once it was finished, many WCM tools out there are built to publish web pages, and web pages will be just a tiny fraction of how content is consumed in the future... (just like the number of people that actually print documents once they're finished with their editing).