Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Your content strategy is brilliant and hopeless

I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who has put two words together that have been published on a web site since 1993 that hasn’t at some point sat at their desk and typed into a strategy document ‘write once, publish everywhere’ or ‘centralised writing, distributed reading’ or ‘write once, publish many’ or ‘global content, local readers’ or ‘one repository, many devices’ or ‘my CMS brings all the boys to the yard and damn right it’s content framework means it’s deployed on multiple platforms and viewports with coherency and efficiency and is better than yours by which I mean maximises ROI and provides the ideal user experience about which I could teach you but I’d have to charge’ or something like that.

Defining a content strategy that maximises ROI on publishing for a business isn’t difficult. Once you’ve distilled the distribution components of a publishing system into the dark matter of a CMS then everything else kind of gets sucked into the inevitability vacuum. You just need to draw some concentric circles around it and randomly place some google image swipes of devices and screens and that stock photo of a globe with a URL wrapped around it that says THIS IS WHAT THE INTERNET IS and you’re away. If you like, you can project the cost benefit to the organisation of rolling out said strategy by Q4 and streamlining your processes, synchronizing your publishing and automating your workflows. In the long term the ROI is massive. Like, a huge number.

Trust me, I’ve written that strategy a few times. It’s brilliant.

But it’s also hopeless. Content strategy, however perfectly formed, nearly always necessitates business change in order that is delivers on its promises. And businesses don’t like to change. They like to save money. They like to be efficient. But they rarely actually honestly have the ability to change the way they operate around a strategy that makes their content delivery scaleable, manageable, responsive, adaptive, data-driven, intelligent, profitable, better. Not because they don’t think your strategy isn’t brilliant and that it will indeed bring all those boys to the yard, but because they’re simply unable to overcome the festering delineations within their own business that preclude agility. I mean, if you could just change your strategy to make it work for the product division, because, you know, I think they have data or something, then maybe we could do a pilot, you know, phase one, but we don’t have anything to do with the service division, I mean, they’re a separate part of the business and we don’t even know who they are, although Mike in corporate does know the manager over there and Mike owns all that corporate stuff, like, um, I dunno, press releases and things. Can we do press releases? They already have a CMS. Maybe we can use that, etc…

Defining a content strategy is rarely a problem. Facilitating business change nearly always is. If you’re not talking to the person who can truly bring about that change, you’re quacking into a void.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Watching the prospectives at London IA

I was lucky enough to talk at the May London IA event a few days ago. Even better than that, I got to share the stage, well, I say stage, I shared the bit of floor at the front of the loft, with the most charming man in the world, Giles Colborne, and the most charming woman in the world, Johanna Kollmann. Unfortunately for them, they had to share the small walk around in front of the projector area with the most charmless dancing dad Soho misfit in the world, me. I’m prone to a bit of self-depreciation, but really, it was as much as I could do to breathe in for 30 minutes while I was up there before collapsing into a Stella at The Endurance and a subsequent face full of Ginsters on the steps of Centre Point like a lost corporate team-builder from the M4 corridor.

We’d gathered for a redux of the IA Summit, which took place in New Orleans earlier in the year. Johanna and I had presented at the summit at the same time - 8:30 on Sunday morning – and hadn’t seen each other speak, so it was great for us, and Giles had very kindly offered/volunteered/I dunno, been threatened with something to do a recap of a few of the highlights from the conference. It was going to be a good night even if nobody else turned up.

But turn up they did, and based on a quick show of the hands that people showed when asked, it seems that the vast majority of the attendees had never been to a London IA event before, which was very inspiring. Either that or they just didn’t like Martin waving his iPad at them saying “who’s been to one these before? Hmm? Matthew and I organize these you know! THEY’RE FREE!’ Either way, a lot of new faces is, to me, a very encouraging thing. Let’s be honest, you can go to events in London that are the physical manifestation of the echo chamber and although the people are extraordinarily nice and I would like many of them to be real friends that know what the sound of my voice is like, these events are excellent places to learn things you don’t know and see people you may have read say things out loud. Far be it from me to sound like some kind of curious Werthers Original style UX granddad shedding a small tear into my slippers when the young uns look up at the stage that isn’t a stage with those beady eyes of youth, pondering your gibberish like some unbounded grasshoppers, but it’s encouraging to see them sat in that loft, just BEING KEEN. *sniff*

So thank you to Martin and Matthew for organising and inviting me along, and thank you to Giles and Johanna for being charming and fascinating, and thank you to everybody who turned up and was polite and keen and asked lovely questions, and thank you to the weather for hailing on my legs as I cowered under a newsagent awning just before arriving, and thank you for listening, etc.

Slides from the IA Summit (On Slideshare):
Making sense of messy problems: Systems thinking for multi-channel UX by Johanna Kollmann
Designing the Mobile Wallet: A Case Study by Tim Caynes

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Global, local, desktop, mobile

About a million years ago I wrote the web globalisation strategy for a large corporation that included, variously, authoring and production strategy, globalisation, localisation and internationalisation requirements, data architecture, content management platform definition, functional specifications, business requirements, lots of pictures of concentric circles, some arrows, some double-byte character sets, search integration, all sorts of stuff. I mean, I didn’t write all of it. No, actually, I did write all of it. And it was pretty good. But it never happened.

It never happened because the content strategy that supported a ‘write once, publish everywhere’ model was simply too inflexible for stakeholders to sign up to. The idea is perfectly simple. The execution is pretty doable. We could build the platform, we could integrate localisation workflows, we could support content authors with different levels of scope and authority, we could distribute that authoring, we could centralise that authoring, we could mash everything together into a globalised online presence, and Bob would indeed be your uncle.

However, different stakeholders want different things. Different customers want different things. Different users want different things. So, what’s good for the North American goose isn’t necessarily good for the Korean gander. What’s good for the North American buck isn’t necessarily good for the French doe. What’s good for the North American seahorse isn’t necessarily good for the Australian, well, seahorse. And the subtleties of those differences are what led the program to dribble to an apologetic unconclusion. We simply couldn’t define a content strategy that was flexible enough to assemble and distribute a globalised site, based on the centralised, corporate brand and product requirements and the business needs of the content experts and marketeers in the countries. It was easier for the countries to roll their own. So that’s what they did. Using the platform we built to support the central content model. They just created their own instances and copy and pasted the bits they needed from .com, creating silos and duplicates all over the place thankyouverymuch.

It’s that difficulty I witnessed in the global vs. local model that appears to be a central (pun intended) issue with desktop vs. mobile. Well, ok, it’s one of the central issues. I mean, it’s a bit of an issue. IT’S AN ISSUE.

There’s no reason why technically we can’t support the authoring, publishing and distribution of content and services that can provide a coherent experience across all kinds of screens and devices. Responsive design is a method. Having less stuff is a method. Having smaller stuff is probably a method. But for a properly scalable, flexible and efficient operation, it’s just not going to happen unless all stakeholders are in agreement about the content strategy. And when I say stakeholders, I mean anyone who owns, manages, authors or consumes that content. As a content owner, you might not care about comments disappearing from an article when you read it on a smaller viewport. As a commenter, you’ve just been slapped with the wet fish of ‘fuck you’ simply because you’re reading the article on something that fits in your palm. And that’s why content strategy is hard and why rendering isn’t the whole answer.

I’m not proposing a solution, I just see parallels with the globalisation efforts I went through years ago. I don’t think anyone has ever really got globalisation right. I’m not sure anyone will ever really get content strategy for the wider web right. But it is fascinating seeing the component parts evolve that might make it happen.

Jennifer might enjoy this Global Web Programs presentation (PDF 5mb) that talks about the common web platform. Fun times.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Being your own stock library

I have a tendency to fill presentation materials with pictures of myself. This is because I’m a hopelessly deluded narcissist. It’s also because its free, readily available and in high resolution. There might even be something relevant to the point I’m making, although I can always change the point I’m making if the photo is better than the point I’m making. I’m joking.

It’s not only pictures of myself, of course. Over a number of years I’ve built up enough photos of post-it notes taken at 45 degrees with a depth of field the width of a Sharpie to fill Slideshare. I’ve also got a folders overflowing with close-ups of whiteboard erasers, sketches of mobile sites that will never get built and abstract blocks of colour that I think will represent a particular mood when I’m stood in front of it telling some inane story about a workshop where a client lost a shoe or something.

And naturally, I’ve got a whole arsenal of photos where people I work with have been subjected to embarrassing manipulations and positioning to get the perfect shot that represents someone thinking about something really hard while half-looking at a screen but being really attentive to a random interloper who is being shown something really very interesting on that screen and very possibly pointing at it.

And handshakes. And headsets. And URLs spiralling around a globe.

Maybe I don’t have those last ones. But suffice to say, I’ve got a supply of stuff that I can use, rather than hunting down and trawling through stock sites for hours until you really do want to poke your eyes out with a kitten in a bucket. And if I don’t have what I want, I can often just go ahead and create something specifically for the thing I’m working on. This doesn’t always work if the thing I’m working on is something about, say, camels, but it’s great when I need something which represents ‘someone looking like an arse’.

In the end, it’s a personal preference, and a convenient, cheap way to add something of interest to something which is probably quite uninteresting. It’s not for everyone, but then, neither am I.

You’re more than welcome you use anything I have to add to your own stuff. There a load of stuff all creative commons licensed and available on flickr.