Architecting Content in a Multi-Channel, Multi-Device Reality by: Kelley McDonald
January 24th, 2013
Last Spring, in my blog post, Break the Page Paradigm to Liberate Your Content, I discussed how quickly the use of mobile devices was reaching critical mass and how we would need to adapt. Well, now we’ve arrived at the moment when people are as likely to interact online via a mobile device versus a desktop device.
In response, we’ve needed to focus even more on the details of content analysis and content management. In a multi-channel, multi-device reality, the individual unit of content (e.g., a feature article) becomes the primary thing that requires “architecture,” as opposed to the large format web page. The art of page layout is not going away, of course, but what is going away is the idea that a single page layout is enough to determine how content needs to be displayed across devices. We can no longer afford to create awesome layouts for large screens and then expect to simply “take some stuff out” or “stack the stuff up” to make these layouts consumable on smartphones and tablets. Instead, we need to completely separate the structure of the individual unit of content from its multiple displays within multiple page layouts.
This concept is central to a new book published by Rosenfeld Media entitled Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content . The book’s author, Sara Wachter-Boettcher, clearly frames the new content challenge, which is to create content that “is ready to travel” and that can “go anywhere while keeping its meaning and message intact.” Wachter-Boettcher has taken up the call to arms to think beyond the web page and the website. She also shows how content management systems often mitigate against this because they rely too much on monolithic WYSIWYG fields instead of providing individual fields for each major “chunk” of a content item. WYSIWYG fields reinforce the idea that content authors are creating a single page layout instead of well-structured content item that is ready to be consumed across platforms. What she’s really pushing for is the need for information architects and content strategists to think more like database architects in order to create more granular and therefore more flexible databases of content that can serve effectively as the basis for a wider variety of content displays.
As a consultant, I’ve taken this message to heart. We are allocating more time in our projects to analyzing content, creating content models, and experimenting with new ways to visualize the display of content across devices. It’s basically what we used to call “bottom-up information architecture,” or the notion that we architect an online experience one building block at a time, creating blocks that themselves have a well-crafted internal structure and that are connected to each other by metadata. So, not a new concept, but one that has too often been neglected in the rush to launch. Now, however, carefully architecting content building blocks is the only sustainable way forward.
Managing Director, UX Strategy