8 Content strategy: master or meta?

February 2012

I was thinking again about Content Strategy and it occurred to me that there are two ways of looking at it.

There is what I would call the ‘Master’ view: the all-seeing eye that knows everything, plans everything and creates clear structures to realise a certain vision. This is most appropriate to the ‘Enterprise’ model, particularly for industries where compliance is incredibly important or for highly structured modular content.

The other is the ‘Darwinian’ view: life develops largely through chance, circumstance, and constraints, making use of minute building blocks (DNA) to combine and create new life forms in endless and unforeseeable combinations. And, likewise, the binary nature of digital (so simple that it’s either on or it’s off) makes content uncontainable, unconstrainable and endlessly combinable. This paradox is both a threat and an opportunity.

Everything is ‘overnetworked’ and finally unknowable, with content moving and changing and developing in an organic way, depending on the context (see again Brian O’Leary’s work). We may long for control and some publishers try their best to enforce it (DRM anyone?), but we don’t have ultimate control of content anymore.

There is a place for standards, and I am a firm believer in them (it makes things so much easier, for one!) but perhaps it is at the ‘substrata’ that they are most important. So perhaps our job is to  make sure that our content can find its way in this world for our and our authors’ benefit by concentrating on the smallest element, the ‘DNA’ if you will, by working with taxonomies and concentrating on deep tagging and metadata.

At the same time, while the content can be reduced to bits and bytes, it is created, developed and nurtured by people. We all, whether we are the content strategist, publisher or the author, want to tell stories that make hearts sing (and yes, bank accounts grow) wherever they may be.

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