9 January 2013
Bas Evers
Bas Evers
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Content everywhere: Strategy and structure for future-ready content

A book review

Recently, Rosenfeld Media published Content everywhere. It’s a guide to creating future-ready, flexible, reusable, manageable, and meaningful content wherever it needs to go. Content strategist Bas Evers read the book and decided if it’s worth recommending.

About the writer

US-based Sara Wachter-Boettcher (@sara_ann_marie) has been an independent content strategist since 2008. She has a background in journalism and copywriting. She is an example of a content creator turned strategist out of frustration with the chaotic approach to website development and maintenance.

About the book

Sara has written a book under the broad title Content Everywhere. It promises to introduce a new mindset focusing on breaking up content into components that allow for appropriate styling and usage wherever the content goes. In other words, stepping away from pages, documents and WYSIWYG editors.

The book has four parts:

  • Part 1 explains why fixed and inflexible content is problematic.
  • Part 2 introduces a model for structuring content and dividing it up into components.
  • Part 3 focuses on responsive design and adaptive content.
  • Part 4 introduces organizational change needed around content thinking.

Part 1: Losing control

The essential point in the first part is letting go of control. Giving a web page the fixed precision of a printed page or a canvas is a losing battle. That was already true when desktop computers were the primary internet access point. The increasing internet usage on an ever-expanding line of devices only underlines the uselessness of trying to pixel-perfectly control how it looks.

Part 2: Cutting up content

The alternative is introduced in the second part. The author explains how you can model your content, splitting it up into powerful functional components. First in a creative sense (what kinds will you need to communicate your message) and then in a technical sense (what CMS configuration is required to create them). Sara takes some time to explain the advantages of markup. I like the make-up metaphor she introduces. Rather than ‘use red lipstick’ you need to tell a device to ’emphasize the lips’.

Part 3: Publishing anywhere

The third part starts with an advice that is embraced more and more. Instead of trying to guess what a mobile user might need, make all of your content accessible on any device. A centralized repository of structured content makes this possible. Done well, this approach has many (side) advantages, including search engine friendliness and enabling of contextual relevance.

Part 4: Keeping it human

The final part of the book is about the human aspects of content. Sara warns against machine-only content creation. Because of the complexity and the communication aspects, human intervention will always be needed. Another human aspect is the difficulty of getting a new mindset incorporated into organizations that do need it. The author hints at some change management approaches that might be helpful.

Sentiment 1: Too much

Content Everywhere is a book that lacks focus (maybe not surprising given the broad title). In my opinion, it tries to cover too many topics in too little time. For example, part 4 on organizational change feels loosely associated with the actual topic of the book (making content available anywhere) and, more importantly, is worth volumes in itself.

Sentiment 2: Audience confusion

It wasn’t always clear to me who the intended target audience is. I think they’re primarily people like Sara, content creators who want to have more influence in content projects. But at times I got the feeling the author also targets business people who decide on these projects. For the latter group the language use is too colloquial at times (phrases like “blah blah blah”).

Sentiment 3: Lacking originality

The examples Sara comes up with do illustrate the points she makes, but they are not very original. Maybe the choice of examples is actually a side-effect of a bigger point: the mindset isn’t all that new (although admittedly, it still is to many organizations). Perhaps aside from her personal twist to content modeling, everything she says has been said before (and in more necessary detail) by others. This is problematic, again, because so many things are touched upon.

Overall conclusion

All in all, there’s more than enough important thinking in Content Everywhere that will interest content professionals. But overall I’m left with a feeling of only having scratched the surface of an overwhelming amount of ideas. If you’re going to read one book about structuring content and setting it free, I’d rather recommend Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile, which is more focused, concise, and compactly written for a single target group.

About the author

Bas Evers (@everbass) is content strategist at Informaat and fellow initiator of ContentCafé, a Dutch networking event around content strategy. He has evangelized content strategy at UXCamp Europe (Berlin), Design by Fire (Utrecht) and The Web and Beyond (Amsterdam).

Content strategy (18), Mobile design (8)

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