Our future is supple and we have to be flexible enough to thrive. More and more internet-enabled devices of various shapes and sizes are being introduced into the market. Our content has to be designed with forethought so that it will remain accessible with all the details over a multitude of gadgets.
Irrespective of your craft, be it web designing or web developing or user interface designing; all need to pay attention. The Content of the future is going everywhere. Embrace this reality shift. Erstwhile web pages were only designed for the desktops. Now the content needs to work across desktops, phones, tablets etc. with varying form factors and resolutions.
The solution to this content strategy issue of the future requires architectural, technical and editorial knowledge.
Prepare Structured Content
To understand structure we are not going delve into technical information on DITA, XML, RDF, Microdata etc. because it’s just not about metadata and mark-up. It’s about what metadata and mark-up stand for, what they mean. In order to achieve this we need to have a framework to make better decisions about structure. This will aid us in taking on the technical challenges and be productive.
#1. Be Purposeful
Websites are designed to cater to the needs of both the organization and the end user. Their needs have to be applied with respect to the various types of content like articles, blog posts, product description resources etc. For achieving the aforementioned, the following needs to be accomplished.
- Does this type of content cater to the overall goal we are trying to achieve?
- Is this what the user wants?
- What does the organization gain by publishing this?
- What does the organization expect out of the end user?
As imperative as it is to establish site goals prior to making a design decision, it’s absolutely necessary to be aware of what is expected out of the content. This will help in ensuring that no matter what type of form the content adapts to as a result of the type of gadget it’s being viewed upon, it always delivers the intended outcome.
Get to know the content at hand by paying attention to every micro detail. Irrespective of what type of content it is, be it article or poem or food recipe; it helps in breaking down the content to its basic ingredients. These basic ingredients will vary from content to content.
Nevertheless, they have to be identified. They are little pieces of information like title, the body of content, excerpt about the main article, table of contents, quotes, captions, links to related articles, by-lines form author, reviews from readers, images, videos etc.
It’s better to have an information architect at hand to break down the content to its core components. But all members of the team need to pay attention. This will help in the decision-making process so as to how to design the flow of data on the platform so that it responds as expected on any device irrespective of its display’s form factor and resolution.
#3. Be Meaningful
After understanding the basic ingredients or the building blocks to your content it is necessary to comprehend the part played by each block. Which block is absolutely essential, which is not, which adds value and which can be neglected or which is of lesser importance?
This understanding will be the determining factor behind the organization of the content when it comes to various screen sizes and aspect ratios. The following has to do in order to accomplish this.
- How much does each block contribute towards achieving the purpose of the whole content?
- What value of the content is lost if a particular block goes away?
- What relationships exist between the different content blocks?
To be highly thorough; research extensively on the goals of the organization, current patterns of content use, needs of the end user etc. before the beginning.
Consider this scenario. The client is a website which relies on culinary articles to attract users to generate money with advertising. For the sake of this example let the site be ‘reciepies.com‘. Each culinary article from the site has a title, teasers about the recipe, attribution to publication, date of publication, teaser, images, list of ingredients, preparation techniques, and proper description, pairing with appropriate Wine, reader ratings and reviews etc.; all in respective order.
The purpose of the client is to increase page views to generate or increase advertising revenue. For this, the users must frequent the client’s website. This requires the articles to be food related, to the point and to captivate the audience with the writing. So that they feel compelled to visit the site, again and again, to read about more recipes that they can try out and enjoy.
While contemplating the above, some interesting revelations emerge:
- All parts of the article are not necessary and reducing the non-essential parts will reduce the clutter. But it will also produce an unnecessary by-product of a reduced number of page visits by end users.
- Assume a situation where the website has a sidebar and moving it to the middle of the content in case of small screens will frustrate the audience.
- Reducing the image will reduce the length of the content and some orientation issues but it will also reduce the interest of the audience on the recipe.
- Eliminating the teasers will definitely save space but it will reduce the interestingness of the content/recipe amongst the readers.
These are part of revelations because they have great influence on the end user behaviour. The Absence of the essential features will result in decreased user activity caused by reduced page clicks. Resulting in reduced revenue output for the client. The opposite of what the client wants to achieve.
Also, there is the other side of the argument. In many popular designs, the sidebar is pushed to the bottom for gadgets with small screens. But it is inappropriate for all websites. In case of movie review sites or a culinary site like‘www.recipies.com, from the example, the readers would like to immediately know the ratings of the content they are about to read at the beginning of the content.
Pushing down the sidebar with the review would make it literally useless. Also frustrating the end user by forcing him/her to scroll to the end of the article to vital information which should have been included at the beginning of the article. Such an approach is poor design practice.
Once design practice doesn’t apply to all websites. So, all data blocks have to be placed where they all are respectively more meaningful. This is a design practice which is appropriate for both clients and end users.
#4. Be Organized
Being organized always pays off. Some website publishers use Content Management System (CMS) to handle the hassle related to publishing content online. But the presence of CMS doesn’t eliminate the problems associated with publishing content for devices with various aspect ratios and resolutions.
Some CMS might advocate that they solve this very problem but when cross-platform publishing is involved the solution offered might not be delivering a 100% satisfaction all the time. One of the well-developed CMS belongs to NPR [National Public Radio]. They applied the ‘Create Once, Publish Everywhere’ strategy. At NPR each story had to be entered into a discrete set of fields within the CMS and then the whole content is made available by an API for multiple platforms simultaneously.
The NPR CMS supports lots of content elements. But according to Zach Brand, head of technology at NPR it essential enough to just provide the CMS with a title, teaser, description, and Dateline. Other features like audio, images or by-lines are optional.
The takeaway from here is the Content Management with Strategic Approach. But the following must incorporate the checklist when CMS is involved.
- The CMS should have inbuilt analytics to understand and analyse your content.
- The attributes of the blocks of the content that goes into the CMS should be well defined.
- The limitations of the CMS should be always accounted for.
- The technical team should be provided with thoughtful and precise instructions about the requirements of the CMS.
It’s just enough to be just done with what is required when managing a basic website is in question. But when it comes to content that is shared across many types of gadgets and channels CMS is critical to success and ease of deployment.
#5. Be Structured
Technology isn’t mature enough to make decisions yet. But it will be an invaluable asset in implementing good practices for the user. Structuring content requires the use of code and all content editors are not experts in developing. Several tools are available that can help structure the content with XML.
XML is a simple mark-up that provides content with structure and meaning when deployed in the absence of database. DITA designed by IBM, HTML 5, they all help in providing structure to content. Slight touch of the structure with the content is rewarding in its own way. Several tools are available that can be used without the knowledge or know how to code.
Use the tool that provides the best structural output for the project. But always be structured.
Breathe Life Into Structure
The work that goes into the content matters more than the mark-up that structures it. The work breathes life into the structure. Without the well-researched content, the structure is just frames and tags in empty space. The bottom line that always prevailed has been meaningful content.
Getting the content future proof is not ensuring that it will be displayed properly across various gadgets or to ensure that is well structured. It’s also not relying on microdata to resolve your problems. The best place to begin to make your content future proof is, to begin with, the content itself. Analyse the various elements of the content and document the relationships between the various blocks. Make the various blocks join together in such a way that as a whole they deliver a great meaning.
Technology and Standards will be changing and evolving forever. But all are there to deliver the great meaning that the content was intended to deliver. Embrace this thinking and propel content with great meaning and insight. Great content will live on into the future.