The Importance of Taking an Honest Look at Our Content

Feb 18, 2016


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Writing a book is an excellent way to gain attention as an expert in your field. But writing a book is also an incredible way to learn more about your topic and the many ways there are to explain it to others. I learned this lesson firsthand.

Ann Rockley, Charles Cooper, and I recently wrote Intelligent Content: A Primer. It was produced to help introduce the concept of intelligent content, explain the basics, provide a few examples, and explore the benefits available to those who implement the approach.

Each of us has been involved in helping others understand and adopt intelligent content principles. Rockley coined the term, wrote the original definition, created a methodology (the "unified content strategy"), and founded the first conference focused on how to make content intelligent.Cooper has been working side-by-side in the trenches with Rockley for as many years, helping to bring the strategy to life. And I've acted as the unofficial evangelist for intelligent content by working to help content professionals understand what's involved in adopting the approach.

But despite our passion, smarts, and skills, we never realized that our definition of intelligent content needed to be restructured to make it easier to understand and explain. We learned about the problems with our definition from a peer reviewer who provided a cryptic piece of feedback: "apples and avocados." He was pointing out that the definition of intelligent content we had been using for years intermingled two separate, but related, things: characteristics (apples) and capabilities (avocados). Separating them would allow us to isolate and discuss them one at a time.

Here's the original definition: "Intelligent content is structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable." It's technically accurate. But it doesn't give us the granularity needed to isolate each characteristic and the capability and to talk about them individually.

After some contemplation, we decided to rewrite the definition this way: "Intelligent content is designed to be modular, structured, reusable, format-free, and semantically rich and, as a consequence, discoverable, reconfigurable, and adaptable." There are two parts to this definition: the five characteristics that make content intelligent (modular, structured, reusable, format-free, and semantically rich) and the capabilities we gain from adding intelligence to our content (discoverability, reconfigurability, and adaptability). In the earlier definition, we didn't include modular or format-free as characteristics, and we slid reusable in as a capability when it's really a characteristic.

Why is this important? Because leaders of companies don't buy characteristics. Content professionals are more interested in the characteristics because they are curious about how everything works. But leaders don't care about the minutiae. They care about-and buy-capability (capacity, plus ability). We were so focused on helping organizations talk about how to make their content intelligent that we never realized that the capabilities were buried in definition.

Writing a book makes you to examine the way you explain things. And it forces you to recognize that most others do not think, learn, or understand things exactly as you do. With the help of savvy reviewers, producing a book can help you uncover previously unrecognized faults in your logic, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies in the way you attempt to teach others. It can also give you an informed perspective on your content-something only a fresh set of eyes can provide.

If you're planning to adopt new content technologies in the coming year, it would be wise to start by taking an honest look at your content. If you enlist the help of a knowledgeable outsider to provide constructive-yet frank-criticism, you may discover that cleaning up your content is the best first step you can take to ensure your content is the best that it can be.