Let’s Replace “Content” with “Story”

We used to be in the writing business. Then we were in the communication business. Now we are in the content business. It’s probably getting time to change the monika again. I have a candidate: “story.”

There have always been two schools of thought about the word “content”. Some love it. Some hate it.

I hate it. It is an ugly generic word chosen specifically not to mean anything specific. We can’t say “writing” because sometimes we use pictures. Etc. Etc. It is the sort of word you use when you don’t care what is in the container. (Many years ago I asked a Documentum rep what Documentum meant by content, to which he replied, “anything you can store in Documentum.”) read more

Reuse is a good tactic but a poor strategy

I’m hearing people talk more and more about developing a reuse strategy. This is troubling. Reuse is a tactic at best. It is not a strategy. At least, it is not a good strategy.

Content strategy has an acronym COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. But COPE can mean something a little different from tech comm’s idea of content reuse. Here is Mike Teasdale’s definition of COPE from http://www.harvestdigital.com/content-strategy-in-three-simple-acronyms/

I’m forever seeing great bits of content thrown away on a single tweet or Facebook post. read more

Content as Furniture

Summary: Content is no longer furniture; it is a utility. We have to learn to treat it as such.

I am in the last throes of our move from Ottawa to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, which involves moving a lot of content. Boxes and boxes of great heavy lumps of paper and ink content. Great gaping room-swallowing wooden content storage units. Think those old hard drives in the computer museum (or your basement) were costly and low-capacity? Let me show you a book case. More to the point, help me move it. read more

We Can’t Use “In Tray” Definitions for Content Roles

Everyone in the content industry seems to be trying to define their roles these days. There are a number of new roles and titles being described, and everyone wants to know where to draw the boundaries around them.

Commenting on my recent post on Content Engineering, Jonatan Lundin asked, “So is an information architect a sort of content engineer?” On LinkedIn, Bob Newman protests “I am the Technical Writer – NOT the SME!”. And in the first meeting of the nascent Content Strategy Collective, defining content strategy and content strategy roles was the first thing proposed as a goal for the group. read more

I am a Content Engineer

In the closing keynote of the 2013 LavaCon conference, Ann Rockley talked about the rising importance of content engineering in content strategy. A content engineer, Ann explained, is someone with one foot in the technology world and one foot in the content world. Last year I wrote a pair of posts on my hesitation about taking on the label of content strategist (Am I a Content Strategist?, I Am a Content Strategist). I have no such hesitation about the label of content engineer. I am a content engineer, and I have been one for many years. read more

Why content jobs are never well defined

Content jobs are never strictly defined because they are the mortar that holds the bricks of the enterprise together.

I’m attending LavaCon, and here, as everywhere, content people are debating the definition of their roles, the names of those roles, the boundaries and intersects between them, and the responsibilities and qualifications pertinent to them.

Newer fields such as content strategy and information architecture are newer to these debates, but they have been a staple of conversation between technical writers (or is it technical communicators, documentation professionals, or customer information specialists?) for decades. read more

Tech Comm’s Obsession with Novices has to Stop

Novice and Expert keys

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once upon a time (sometime in the 80’s) everyone in the tech business was a novice. Novice tech writers wrote for novice users about novice products created by novice developers employed by novice entrepreneurs (most of whom, apparently, had recently dropped out of Harvard).

There were no conventions about how any of this stuff was supposed to work. No one even knew what the business model was for software, let alone what the standard conventions should be for how anything should work in software or in hardware. As the popular saying of the time went, if it isn’t documented, it isn’t a feature. read more

Differential Content Strategy

Traditionally, the content strategy for technical communications has tended to be undifferentiated. That is, organizations would define the components of a doc set: user guide, admin guide, quick reference card, reference, etc, and would produce that same set of documents for every product and every product release from 1.0 to the very last release before the product was finally put out to pasture.

This undifferentiated strategy was based on a expectation about the role of documentation in a product — an expectation shared by both customer and vendor. But today, thanks to the Web, expectations have changed, and with frequent releases and squeezed margins, the cost of meeting the old expectation has become increasingly burdensome. As a result, more and more organizations are questioning the value of documentation, and the value of developing it in-house  as opposed to outsourcing or off-shoring it. read more

Am I a Content Strategist?

I’m a fan of emerging technology, and generally tolerant of emerging terminology, but when it comes to job titles I tend to the view that if it was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, it isn’t a real job. I have, on diverse occasions, decried attempts to replace the title “technical writer” with something else, maintaining that as long as that is what the job ads call it, that’s what the job is called.

Thus I have been reluctant to call myself a content strategist. Scott Abel’s recent interview with Barbara Saunders indicates I am not the only one having doubts about the title. Yet many of the people I interact with professionally call themselves content strategists, and more than once those people have used the #contentstrategy tag when tweeting about my articles or blog posts. I seem to write a lot about the issues that content strategists care about, yet still I find myself reluctant to get the content strategist tattoo. read more

The Best Place to Find a Needle is a Haystack

HaystacksConventional wisdom tells us that the best place for a needle is in a needle case, and the best place for hay is in a haystack. If you want to find something, or want other people to find it, you should put it in the right place. As we were all taught: a place for everything, and everything in its place.

That was true when we lived in the physical world. But we don’t live in the physical world anymore. We live on the Internet, and the Internet is topsy turvey world in which the best place to find a needle is actually a haystack. read more