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Content, meet engineering

In addition to being editors, publishers, information architects and diplomats, it seems content strategists must now add engineering to their skill set. It is only with the solid foundations and future-proof planning of clever information and data engineering that content strategists can deliver useable digital products in the myriad of devices, formats and platforms available now and peeking at us over the horizon.

At the UK Content Strategy Association’s April 2012 meet-up on adaptive content, three insightful, engaging speakers painted a future where it was indeed possible to ‘create once, publish everywhere’. But this won’t happen without secure and robust foundations. Which means working more closely than ever before with technical architects and builders.

Data dude

Mike Quinn set the scene with a reality check: mini versions of your .com site for your mobile site won’t cut it anymore, apps outscore mobile web in some industries, tablet ownership is predicted to explode over the next few years, and you can no longer keep creating content over and over for every platform. By drilling down into the data and analytics for your site, you can find out who is accessing what, and when, where and how they’re doing it. If you have this, you can sew the technology together to create the personalised experiences people expect to see.

XML zen

Noz Urbina showed us a glimpse into the future where digital content is everywhere, rippling from one interface to the next in contexts unexpected and surprising. As enticing and exciting as this Jetson-esque scenario seems, the hard truth is that such a future is only possible if underlying data is structured and existing processes and practices challenged. It’s time to let go of micromanaging displays, and allow the power of semantic structure do its job. Only structured data (using something like XML, a standards-based enabler) will help us deliver to the new contexts presented by the audience and scenario diversification heading our way.

Content capture

Cleve Gibbon brought home the inescapable truth of the building blocks needed to deliver digital products. Don’t trap your content in a CMS. Don’t design and build for one device. And then another. And then a different device again. Metadata and semantic structure will release your content, allowing you the freedom to publish to the current and the next big thing. Cleve’s overview of the different disciplines and systems at work – publishing, production, UX, architecture, workflows, engineering, design and development – demonstrated there’s nowhere to hide anymore.

Everything old is new again

Many may argue there is nothing new here. By necessity, we have always embraced the tech and worked closely with technical teams to understand the possibilities and limitations of underlying systems. But not to the degree of complexity that adaptive/responsive content now demands.

Before you rush off for that Coding 101 course though, remember that with content in the spotlight like never before, the oldest rule of all still applies: quality in, quality out. If we want good digital products and experiences, content strategists need to step up to the challenges posed by emerging technologies and formats and keep content quality central to the digital world. Which means exposure (to tech’s nitty gritty) not immersion. We otherwise run the risk of u-turning back to the days of tech-led products where content was an afterthought.

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One thought on “Content, meet engineering

  1. Thanks for the mention, Kate! We’ll get there one day. I’m researching like mad and every day I’m more convinced of Gibson’s sentiment: “The future is already here. It just isn’t evenly distributed.”

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