Content strategy for dummies

14.11.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
Have you heard about “content strategy”? If you work in website development, the chances are you have. But what is it exactly?

What is content?
In the online world, “content” means stuff you put on a screen – words, pictures, videos, animations, sounds. Of course, there is also offline content. For example, when Tommy Hilfiger stations cute little pippins in tight dresses around your local department store to hand out white paper strips that stink of some expensive smell he’s created, well, that’s content, too. The sexual allure is content. The fragrant strips of paper are content. The Tommy Hilfiger logo is content. In my world view, “content” affects all five of our senses.

But for the most part, “content” means words and pictures on a website or application. OK?

What is “strategy”?
In the military, there is talk of “strategy” and “tactics”. Mostly, strategy relates to goals whereas tactics relate to the methods needed to achieve these goals.

Strategy (as expressed by the Lieutenant): “We need to take that hill, men.”

Tactics (as expressed by the Sergeant): Fat guys behind rocks. Skinny guys behind trees.”

What is “content strategy”?
“Content strategy” means giving visitors – to a website or department store – whatever “content” they need to make a decision or carry out a task. The strategy part lies in how we present this content to influence these decisions and tasks. If we’re doing a sitemap for a website, we call this “information architecture”. If we station a girl in a department store, we call it “service design”. But it’s all closely related.

Here’s an article that shows how many content strategists view themselves:
http://knol.google.com/k/content-strategy#

Please note: I take exception to a couple of the things said in this article. I include it mainly to provide equal time to the hard-core proponents. I’m not out to declare war on anybody – but I do have a low tolerance for bullshit.

Birth of a buzzword
How did the web survive for so many years before “content strategy” came along? Surprisingly well - because “content strategy” has always been part of the picture. It just got a new name and has since become a buzzword. I’ve had it on my business card for years simply because my clients didn’t understand the term “information architecture”. Incidentally, when I googled “content strategist” back in 2004 (when I first put the title on my card), there wasn’t a single hit.

My story isn’t unique. Many folks came to information architecture from a writing background. Think of “content strategists” as librarians who read and write. Since we understood the content and were often providing it, too, we were the ones who got to create the sitemap.

Just for the record, my very basic description of information architecture is this:

- We gather stuff into convenient categories
- We call stuff by names people will recognize
- We put stuff where people can easily find it.

Remember, this is IA on a high, strategic level. Naturally, when you get down to the tactical nitty-gritty of information architecture, you’d better understand taxonomy development and the other cool stuff they teach at library school. This is also why there are no easily defined borders between the worlds of IA and CS. And if you ask me, who really cares as long as the job gets done properly – and in a way that provides measurable benefits.

Content becomes valuable by virtue of context
Here’s a piece of content:

“Strandøre 15. A ten minute walk north from Svanemøllen Station”.

For 99.99% of the readers of this blogpost, this snippet of content is irrelevant and therefore worthless. But if you were taking public transportation to the FatDUX office in Copenhagen, the content becomes useful and therefore acquires value. If content is king, then context represents the kingdom.

Information architects need to understand content. Content strategists need to understand context. In terms of traditional sitemaps, the boxes have no value without the interconnecting arrows. And the arrows have no meaning if there are no boxes to which to point. And that’s why there is so much gray area in the definition – and why the pedants will spend years fighting over definitions in the years to come.

Form cannot exist without content
There’s a video on YouTube that has achieved cult status. It is of the Russian singer, Eduard Kihl, featured in a 1966 video where he “sings” his hit song, “I Am Glad I'm Finally Going Home”. Actually, in the repressive Soviet Union of 1966, the lyricist apparently was unable to write a suitable poem that would meet with Party approval. So Kihl simply trololo’ed his way through the melody and today we giggle at the results.

My point in mentioning the "Trololo Video" here is that form without content becomes absurd. And now that I've provided some historical context for the video, perhaps you'll see that it is actually more tragic than comic.

The most attractive website cannot survive without meaningful and useful content – content that is arranged in a meaningful and useful way. And somebody needs to do the work - no matter what their official title.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z4m4lnjxkY&NR=1

The user experience of hot dog buns

06.08.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
We're gearing up for our annual FatDUX barbeque. Naturally, hot dogs will be on the menu along with lots of other goodies. The problem is, Danish hot-dog buns don't let you load up with chili, cheese, relish, onions, sauerkraut, and all the other stuff you get on your dog at Nathan's Famous on Coney Island and other hot-dog stands of reknown.

So, as the good user-experience designers we are, we decided to do some user research.

Upon investigation, it turns out that Wikipedia actually has an article about hot-dog buns. Let us share some of the more interesting facts:

"A hot dog bun is a type of soft bun shaped specifically to contain a hot dog. There are two basic types: top-loading, which is popular in New England, and side-loading, preferred in the South and Midwest United States.

The advantages to a top loader are that it holds the hot dog securely and fits nicely into little three-sided paper boxes. Top loaders are generally baked side by side and torn apart as needed, leaving a flat side surface for grilling.

Side loaders tend to be doughier, so are more likely to successfully sop up all the juices from chili or sauerkraut without falling apart."

Now here in Denmark, I've never seen anything except side-loaders (Gosh, who knew there was a technical term for this). That is until yesterday when I discovered the "Grab Dog" form-fitting hot-dog holder from the Danish bakery, Paaskebrød. An innovative solution? Absolutely. But a good solution?

We'll let the photos speak for themselves:

Typical Danish hot dog bun cracks at the hinge when opened.

delt_brød  

Grab dog attempts to solve the broken hinge problem

tom_hotdog 

Grab dog attempts to solve the broken hinge problem

The Grab Dog bun. Not easy to toast and fairly dry to begin with.

package 

Grab Dog works OK with standard hot dogs (er, where did these standards come from?

hotdog 

But larger hot dogs cause bun to crack.
User testing at FatDUX. Our Business Development Director, Stine Ringvig, was not pleased with the dried out Grab Dog that quickly fell apart during her lunch.

stine 

On-site ethnographic research at our local ecological hot-dog stand.

stand 

Dennis shows us how Danish hot dogs are traditionally served.

dennis

Danish hot dogs come with the bun on the side, not as a single culinary unit.

tallerken_hotdog

Ecological bun from Korvbröds Bagarn in Sweden is delicious and doesn't crack!

swedish 

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