B. Noz Urbina, Mekon Ltd.
Continuing on from my previous article about the state of a multiplatform content strategy, here are some reasons that building “for mobile” can actually hurt your content’s long-term usefulness, some notes on how you can tell if you’re headed for trouble, and ideas on how we need to think differently in a multi-platform age.
But before taking any action, my meta-message for the series is for us to start seeing mobile not as a new format to move your content to, but to consider mobile as the motivator—the opportunity in fact—to move your content out of the format churn and into format-neutral territory.
Why Building Content “For Mobile” is Dangerous
As discussed in Part 1, mobile is a series of new presentation formats. ePub, HTML5, the Kindle .mobi format, and other mobile formats are all designed to describe how to display content. The standards are built specifically for presentation and specific platforms issues, not around designing the content for user’s actual needs and desires across formats and platforms.
If you build content strategies for format-based processes, you’ll always be playing catch-up as new formats come out. This concept applies equally to web publishing, technical communication, and traditional publishing. All have content that can get “locked-in.” The trap has many tell-tale signs, of which I’ve selected a tiny set of examples:
- You’ve got your print deliverable but it’s awful online or on small mobile format screens
- You’ve got your iPhone app but don’t have all your content ready to go in it
- You have to keep paying for expensive ‘Content migration’ initiatives and spend ages prioritizing what gets converted and what doesn’t
- You changed management platforms and now the content has all been flattened and disconnected—not even worth trying to move it
- And so on…
Telling New Stories
When content is locked in a single format or inflexible structure, it is very hard to break it apart and leverage it to tell new ‘stories’ for multiple contexts on multiple formats. New formats are everywhere. New stories could be a condensed how-to manual, a brochure, a microsite, a campaign, an ‘expert’s guide’ (that cuts out lots of fat that newbies need), and so on. New ‘contexts’ might be:
- I’m learning about a product … while on the bus to work (User)
- We’re announcing a product in multiple geographies simultaneously (Brand)
- We’re/I’m evaluating a product for purchase (Could be user’s private consumer research in Business to Consumer; could be Corporate due diligence for Business to Business)
- I’m using a product right now (User or staff that works for the Brand)
- I’m answering questions about a product (Brand Staff, 3rd Party Partners/Trainers/Retailers, maybe even certain Users who are community experts/evangelists)
Each might require different arrangements or subsets of core content or different relationships or ‘paths’ through the content. How do you prepare your content to be ready to accurately appear in all these different ways, optimized for the device and context?
If your content isn’t modular, you can only tag whole content objects (articles, posts, manuals, or service bulletins), for example relating them to a ‘high tech’ or an ‘iPad 3’ category. That’s great for making links between objects in a category, but not very useful for helping you build new deliverables from reusable bits inside those objects.
Sometimes a whole object is too big to be reused effectively. Sometimes you just want the company slogan, a product overview, a feature list, one procedure among several on a “page,” and so on to tell a new story with it somewhere else, for someone else, on some other device.
CaaS: Content as a Service
To be able to move fluidly across formats we need to design content not with a deliverables mentality, but a service mentality. Like Cloud Computing means computing services shared across a network or grid, like a utility grid, Content as a Service (CaaS) is a paradigm shift where reusable content assets are available to different applications that in turn deliver the actual consumables from wherever they are to wherever they need to be.
In an article, this idea is hard to get across It’s not that it’s too complicated, it’s simply different than the way we work today. The technologies and methods have been in place for years, but we needed a certain series of events to bring them to us today:
1. The printing press (seriously) to make mass publishing possible
2. The (social) web to make mass publishing available to the masses
3. Mobile to hit the masses on the web and drive them to go multi-platform
Once all three happened, we now have a critical mass of content, managed by a critical mass of people to make the situation, well … critical.
The reassuring bit is that none of us has all the answers. I can’t code a mobile app to save my life or layout a page in InDesign. We must work together. Don’t be concerned if you can’t create, much less implement, an entire multi-platform content strategy by yourself. Start pairing up with those who can, and let’s learn from each other. For more information, you can see my slides from the CSA conference on <http://slidesha.re/resuable>.