Content, the once and future king

June 12, 2008

A few years ago (or several hundred in internet time) there was a saying that “content was king”.

The phrase was used in discussions during the web 1.0 boom where to get market share more and more sites were using eye-candy rather than optimising the content ( is the poster child for this). I think history shows that indeed content was king.

A recurring theme of current commentators is that ‘collaboration is king’, google the phrase to find it popping up all over the place.

It’s a misleading phrase though, setting up collaboration in opposition to content (there is only one king!)  misses what is the most valuable aspect of collaboration; it produces better content. That’s certainly true about sites where the collaboration is the content – such as focused social networking sites like Ravelry, or  many wiki’s.

Which leads to looking at the collabaration process from the other side, not how many people are taking part, but how good is the content that it produces? We’ve got a decade’s worth of research that tell us how to assess how good content is, we should apply those techniques to collaboration sites and it will tell us how good the engagement / collaboration is. By that standard, I still say Ravelry is the social media site with all the answers.

The usual, rather sketchy, pop music analogy.

Collaborations between musicians seems to fall into two camps, amazing and terrible. As with websites it’s the outcome (the “content”) that defines how well the collaboration worked. This collaboration is, um, not likely to be an anybody’s list of easy listening favourites. (I did initially look for Bonnie Prince Billy’s brilliant collaboration with Shooglenifty, but its not on Youtube), so here’s Sonic Youth and Lydia lunch making a terrifying racket.

Update: for some reason the video isn’t working, here’s the URL



Treat concepts imported from the external web with caution

February 20, 2008

We all need to be careful thinking that emergent Internet behaviour will also work within an organisation. We should, of course, examine such emergent behaviour and use it where we can, but it’s important to dig deeper and try to spot if the different environment means that different rules apply.

I’ve mentioned before that I think wiki’s need ‘managed’ and that the unforced organic growth seen on Internet wikis is problematic, it’s just too wasteful if the contributor resource is limited. This seems to tie in nicely with JPs pearl analogy. Sure, natural pearls are better than cultured ones, but cultured ones are better than fake pearls or no pearls at all. And natural pearls are rare.

Another Internet concept in web design to be careful about is stickiness.

Stickiness really means trying to manipulate a user to stay on a particular site. When done crudely it means sites didn’t link to other sites, or ‘windowed’ other site’s content. It is a very bad idea, and it’s thankfully less common than it used to be. If your site doesn’t have what someone was looking for the best thing to do is to link to something that does, you get the props for directing people to the info they want.

We’ve come a long way from crude ‘pop up’ tricks, but there is still a desire for stickiness – the motivation for a site provider is that you get the ad revenue and the ‘eyeballs’. Sites like facebook and myspace are quite sticky, but sites like YouTube have learned a better way, allowing embedded content rather than forcing you to go to you tube and navigate down.

On an intranet, the desire to be sticky needs to be resisted, the desire is still there, departments want the credit for the content they provide, and can be slow to add in features equivalent to You Tube embedding. Ask people not to use ‘open new window’ links (it’s stupid in the days of tabbed browsers anyway) never use javascript links to control the users browser, encourage cross divisional linking, and encourage RSS or data feeds for applications. I know there is still a lot to be done on the usability of applications, but the next wave of collaboration activity needs to dealt with in applications too. Stickiness is the enemy of collaboration.

My pop music choice for illustrating this is one of my all time favourite tunes. It’s a very curious song. One of the last songs produced by the maverick producer Joe Meek it has a haunting tone, the ‘neediness’ in the voice is nearly pathetic (just like over controlling stickiness in a web site!), the instrumentation is heavily treated, like its being heard from some ghostly dancehall, and the vocal style – is that a lisp of poorly fitting dentures?- adds to its charm.