The Importance of Future-Proofing Your Content

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Article ImageNo one has a crystal ball for looking into the future of content. How will people be viewing your content a year or 10 years from now? Will it be on a smartwatch or maybe as a hologram? The hologram example may be taking things a bit too far, but the point is that, as a content creator, you never know how your content will be used in years to come. If you want it to have staying power, you need to think about future-proofing.

"Publishing is a living discipline with one constant-change," writes Scott Abel in his new book, Intelligent Content: A Primer, co-authored with Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper. That pretty much sums up why it's important for content creators to future-proof their work. Similar to how an episode of a 1980s, shot-on-videotape sitcom can look lousy if viewed on your huge, state-of-the-art flat-screen HDTV, internet content-no matter how awesome or groundbreaking it was when it first came out-can look lousy if viewed on a tablet, a smartphone, or a widescreen monitor. Seems obvious? Not necessarily, the experts say. And even less obvious is how to future-proof that content.

To Abel-a content management strategist and social media choreographer-future-proofed content is "content intentionally designed to anticipate the future needs of an organization and minimize the pain, stress and cost of meeting those needs." The problem is getting stuck in the past. The not-so-distant past, true, but the past all the same.

When the internet arrived and the chief way of viewing webpages was on a clunky CRT monitor, complete with a 640x480 resolution displayed in 256 colors, "it didn't matter what our content was. ... [W]e had limited scope for our creative expression," writes Cooper in Intelligent Content

"We hard-coded image sizes into HTML pages and embedded fonts into paragraphs because that's how things were done back then," Cooper continues. "But when computer monitors got larger and could display more colors and we packed up and put away our dial-up modems, our content was still stuck in the past. To display content effectively, we had to go back and strip all that hard-coding out of our content. That content was not future-proofed."

You might think that content creators learned a lesson after struggling with the onslaught of mobile devices, but many still ignore the importance of future-proofing their content. They do this at the peril of their continued success.

What Is Future-Proofing, and Why Is It Important?

Rahel Anne Bailie, chief knowledge officer at the U.K.-based content service provider Scroll, stresses that future-proofing doesn't require a crystal ball. "In terms of content, we often can't anticipate the future very far out," Bailie says. "By that, I mean, technologies change rapidly enough-for example, who anticipated wearables 5 years ago?-that future-proofing means something slightly different. It means making decisions about the design, architecture, and production methods of content that will allow us to use the content in new ways or new channels without significant rework."

As for why it's important, Bailie says that, over the years, she's "seen examples where swaths of content need to be integrated into larger bodies of content, and the exercise takes far more time, effort, expense, and toll on staff than necessary." For example, she says, a particular division of a company may make a feature that gets incorporated into its parent company's product. But the software used to produce the content isn't compatible with that of the parent company, and as a result, "it takes 3 months and $20,000 to accomplish something that should have been a couple of days of work, at most."

Author and digital industry enthusiast Kevin Nichols also has horror stories about what happens when people don't future-proof. He says he's seen "millions of dollars spent re-platforming an experience"-such as a website or a mobile site-"due to a failure to set it up properly in the first place, which includes future-proofing as a major component."

He adds he's also seen organizations "not effectively respond to competitive differentiation, because they are not set up to do so." He's even seen new product introductions "get held up in larger Fortune 100 companies because the publishing processes did not support new content creation required for the product."

"Future-proofing content keeps an organization nimble [and] able to respond to advances in technology, users' behaviors, and organizational change," Nichols says. "We know that all three happen within any industry and all the time. It sets up a content ecosystem for success."

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