Friday, December 28, 2012

On the move...

For 2013 and beyond this blog has moved to a new home - Please click over to the new look
THE CONTENT POOL blog for updates on "One Man's Adventures in Content."

Thanks - see you there.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A little lesson in Content Packaging thanks to the Fab Four

Earlier today I was alerted to this video from Carlton Books giving what they term a "Sneaky Peek" at their upcoming book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles' first hit record.

As both a Beatles fan and scholar, I knew that this great looking book was destined to join my Fab Four research library (as I'm working on an idea for another Beatles related book proposal).

Then I started thinking about this video from a Publishing and Content Strategy perspective.

Anyone whose heard me speak on digital publishing will know I often repeat the phrase that "pixels and print are not mutually exclusive." In other words it isn't an either/or decision between digital and traditional print publishing, in most cases a book can exist equally in both and often help each other. - Which is definitely the case with my own Beatles book where Kindle sales have driven increases in print sales.

However there are some things that each medium does better than the other, and I strongly believe that print will flourish for publishers who figure out how and why print is special. In my view there is one advantage that print has over digital - reading a printed book is a tactile experience that engages the senses of feel and smell as well as sight.

A book like the one in the video above could not be done on a digital platform. Yes the written word and the photos could be reproduced, maybe even the video from the DVD and the sounds  included in a multi-media enhanced eBook - But the way it is packaged and presented is as a interactive tactile experience, and that's what will make it special. You can only do that in print.

The packaging of the book is also a great example of re-purposing existing content to be consumed and experienced new ways. Instead of a photograph of a concert poster or ticket, why not recreate them? Move interaction with the content from a passive one to an interactive one.

As well as the book itself and its refreshing content packaging, there is also the smart way that the content, and the idea of the book, is being promoted via the use of other media such as video and social networks.

Smart move Carlton Books - you've got my $$ already - and I just helped you spread awareness a little further.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Color me this...

The following are a few extracts from my latest feature cover article for INTERCOM magazine on Communicating with Color

My red shoes went viral on the Internet thanks to a photograph taken at the Intelligent Content Conference in Palm Springs back in February. Over the last couple of years I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with Converse sneakers, and as of today have nine pairs in different colors, usually worn to match whatever shirt or jacket I’m wearing. The red ones always seem to draw comments or, it seems, the occasional photograph.

However my interest in color goes beyond my choice of sartorial footwear, as I’ve long been interested in the use of color as a design element in communications and storytelling.

Color has always been around us, used by both man and nature as a means to communicate.  The bright plumage of a bird, or the striped fur of a Tiger are not an accident, they are an integral part of the way that the animals interact with each other and their surroundings. The same goes for the human species. We have long used color to communicate with each other and as a part of various cultural traditions. So why not use color as part of our technical communications toolbox as well?


Of course adding color to your technical communications deliverables isn’t as simple as just picking a few crayons from the box and coloring in between the lines. The use of color takes a lot of thought, and a new set of skills that need to be considered. In fact the color theory knowledge and experience of an individual can make a big impact.   


Think about the colors you see around you everyday and how they are used. Red for Stop or Danger. Green for Go etc. Your company probably already has some color standards overseen by the marketing group on how the company colors can be used. Think about how they can be incorporated in to your technical documentation. Even take a look at the colors used in the product you are writing about. How can they be used?

The full article is available in the print edition of the STC INTERCOM magazine, or on-line here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Do Stories Look Like?

Book design guru Chip Kidd discusses how designing books is all about using visual design to convey the story contained within. He also makes some great observations about eBooks.

"Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.” (Chip Kidd)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities (and Conferences)

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times*. Or at least that's the impression about the state of the content development industry that came across during two different publishing conferences I have attended in the last few weeks. Hosted in two cities that couldn't have been more diverse, Palm Springs, CA and Austin, TX, the conferences were opposite reflections of their locations.

Palm Springs CA can perhaps be summed up by the fact that the city's greatest attraction appears to be an aging vaudeville theater that boasts that it is home to the World's oldest chorus line! This, the city not the theater chorus line, was the venue for the 2012 Intelligent Content Conference (ICC12), a vibrant well programmed exchange of ideas that drew attendees from various aspects of the enterprise content development world, especially from service information, business process, and marketing; along with new technology practitioners, leading consultants, and content strategists. This group understood that the real value of the new publishing model was in the content itself (hence the title of the conference.)

The underlying feeling coming away from this conference was that the attendees thought that this was indeed the "best of times" to be in content development. The biggest revolution in content development and delivery since the invention of the printing press is opening up an incalculable number of opportunities to redefine both the business model, and the way we tell our stories and interact with those who consume them.

Austin, TX on the opening day of the annual SXSW Interactive conference gives off that same vibe of excitement and opportunity as leading thinkers, futurists, innovators, and entrepreneurs descend on the Texas capital to discuss the future of the web. Part of this year's opening day events included a one-day mini-conference based on O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) annual publishing industry get together in New York. As expected the majority of attendees where from the worlds of traditional book and magazine publishing. The contrast between this crowd and the attendees at Intelligent Content, and the larger SXSW crowd, couldn't have been more marked. The underlying vibe that I picked up at the TOC day was one of confusion, and even panic.

The first speaker, mobile designer Josh Clark, provided one of the best summaries on how to approach the new publishing paradigm when he said that "Your product is called content, everything else is a container." He also went on to say that "Mobile isn't about Apps. An App isn't a strategy." Yet nearly every other speaker, and question from the audience, ignored this great advice. The focus of most conversations was firmly on the delivery process and medium, not about the thing actually being delivered, the content. And during the sessions I was at I never heard a single word about how to add value to the content by making it intelligent

My feeling was that most of the TOC audience this is "the worst of times," as things are changing too fast to understand, and the traditional business model no longer works.

And that's where I believe the disconnect between these two groups originates - with the business model.

In the corporate world the development of content is a key part of any business process (In fact in THE CONTENT POOL book I put forward that it is THE key component), and that while it may not always be recognized as such, it is generally developed irrespective of the delivery platform. Yes particular platforms may be specified, but they are more a matter of convenience and familiarity than an integral part of the company's overall business model. The value to the organization is implicitly in the content, not the delivery model.

In traditional publishing, no matter what lip service is paid to content, it is the delivery mechanism that provides the value. The business model of traditional publishing is built around the infrastructure and process to move pieces of paper from the printer, to the warehouse, to the retail outlet, and eventually into your hands as a consumer. It is only you, as a consumer, who then derives any value from what was on that paper - the content.

While the corporate world sees new delivery models as an opportunity to provide more and more intelligent content, traditional publishing sees it as a disruptive event to a centuries old infrastructure.

The best of times; the worst of times.


* With apologies to Charles Dickens for the paraphrasing. - "A Tale of Two Cities" was originally published concurrently in two separate formats - In the weekly magazine All Year Round without illustrations , and in collected monthly installments with illustrations by regular Dickens artist Halbot Browne (from which the illustration at the top of this post is taken.) Dickens was a master of realizing the value of his content over format often publishing new works in various formats and platforms to reach the widest possible audience, before eventually publishing the full work as a novel.

If he were around today, I'm sure he would be one of the pioneers of digital publishing.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Silo? What Silo?

Information Silos. I often talk about them, and I hear people talk about them all the time.

"We need to break down the walls between functions and departments. We need other people to share their information and content with us."

A sentiment I heard expressed at a conference recently by the representative of a large engineering company.

Yet two days later when it was suggested that the design engineers in her company should be given web based authoring tools so that they could write the basic information needed for a technical procedure, her immediate response was "No way! I'll never let engineers write technical procedures. That's the technical authors' job."

Sounds like creating silos to me. Don't expect others to share and collaborate if you're not intending to do the same.

Getting others to break down their information and process silos means you have to do it first.

Monday, February 13, 2012

THE CONTENT POOL book - Just a week away.

I'm looking forward to the Intelligent Content Conference in Palm Springs next week for several reasons.

And top of that list is the fact that the conference will be the location for the official launch for my latest book, THE CONTENT POOL, which in many ways is based on this blog. (Cover above.)

Today Scott Abel posted an interview with me abut the book, and the ICC12 launch, at his Content Wrangler site.

I mention in the interview that we will be publishing a special limited edition of THE CONTENT POOL for conference attendees. The ICC12 Edition will be limited to just 100 copies and will include an exclusive chapter linked to the panel on "Making a Business Case for Innovation" which I will be participating in at the conference.

If you are heading to Palm Springs next week for ICC12 I look forward to seeing you.

If you can't make the conference the standard edition of THE CONTENT POOL is available for pre-order.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Man from P.O.S.T. - "The Where to Prioitize a Technology Decision Affair"

Despite the fact that for over half of my career technology companies have (and continue to) pay my mortgage - I have always been a long standing, and increasing vocal, proponent of the idea that in deciding on any business process change or innovation the technology must come last.

A topic I devote a whole chapter to in the upcoming THE CONTENT POOL book (end of shameless plug).

At the 2011 LavaCon conference I even ended up getting a quick round of applause during the conference closing panel discussion for the statement that audience members should stop talking about tools and start talking about business need. A sign that I thought that we were making some headway.

Then yesterday I was invited on a conference call for a project that has been ticking over for nearly three years now and is not making any apparent progress. The reason quickly became apparent as conversation quickly got into the weeds about the features / functions and development efforts needed around three alternative technology options.

When I asked the basic question of what was the project's high level business objective, no-one could actually articulate it. Was this a project for the customer communication,, or was it a project to prove that something could be done using existing technology? Again, no clear response.

Over lunch afterwards, a friend reminded me of the acronym POST developed by the Forrester's consulting group. P.O.S.T.

Forrester's created the P.O.S.T. approach as part of developing a corporate social network strategy - but I believe it applies equally as well to the world of content strategy (Of which social network content should be a part anyway).

P. = People
O. = Objectives
S. = Strategy
T. = Technology

Seems obvious doesn't it. Start with those who have a need, figure out the things you need to do to fill that need, develop a strategy to do it, and then think about the tools you can use to do it.

You should be thinking along the lines of "We need to decrease the time it takes to get our content changes into the hands of our customers," not "We need to install Wizgadget3.0."

Or as my lunch companion neatly summed it up -

If you put the "T" first, all your are left with is a P.O.S.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Every Presentation, Ever: A Communication Failure?

I have spent, and continue to spend, a lot of my professional life either giving, or sitting through presentations. I have seen every one of the communication failures parodied in this video.

After I'd watched the video and smiled in recognition, and even winced occasionally about things know I've done in the past. I started thinking about the title.

Is every presentation ever given an exercise in communications failure?

I would submit that the vast majority are - sure there are good ones (see the various TED talks for instance), but most presentations are simply a dry regurgitation of facts and ideas that could be better expressed in much more entertaining and different ways.


By focusing on the speaker, not on the PowerPoint.

Think about the conference sessions you remember most - I bet it was the ones with the energtic, passionate, articulate speakers, rather than the ones with the prettiest slides. I have seen a growing trend amongst top rated speakers and presenters to just use single image slides acting as a backdrop to a particular point as a way of getting the audience to focus on them and the message they are delivering. I even have spoken to several other regular conference speakers about dropping the use of slides altogether, but conference organizers seem to get scared when you say you don't have any slides.

During the course of the year I attend two distinct types of industry events, first there are the technical and business conferences, then as a pop-culture writer there are the the various conventions. For as long as I have been attending science-fiction and comics conventions the default way of communicating with the audience is to have a panel of guests discuss a particular topic in which they have a stated interest, or experience. No PowerPoints, just people discussing what they know and what they are passionate about. The results are invariably both enlightening and entertaining.

Yet business conferences are still dominated by the "person in front of a slide deck" model. - Why? Over the last couple of years I've been lucky enough to be invited in a few business conferences that have experimented with the panel approach (usually just one or two in a program dominated by presentations), and in every case they have been well received, and a joy to participate in.

But it doesn't necessarily need a panel to get that same effect. I mentioned the TED talks earlier - many of the most viewed videos are of a single person on stage, just talking. Sharing ideas with a passion.

Of all the presentations I have ever sat through the most spell-binding was from graphic design guru Edward Tufte who spoke for a whole day on the subject of graphics, and never once used a PowerPoint slide.

Instead of "presenting" information and hiding behind slide decks we should be encouraging expression of ideas, conversations, and discussion. - That's what communication is really about.

Friday, January 6, 2012

That Was The Week That Was ....

I'm not sure I could have asked for a better first full week of the New Year. No matter how I look at it 2012 looks like it's going to be a promising, exciting, and busy year in the world of Content Strategy and Business Communications in general, and on a personal level for 4Js Group as well.

Let's take a look at what made this week such a perfect start to the year.

  • I kicked off the week by delivering the final manuscript for "THE CONTENT POOL" book on Content Strategy to the fine team at XML Press for final copy edits, indexing, and layout. - We are looking at publication in the first half of the year. - As soon as we have nailed down a date I'll post it here and on my twitter accounts. - I'll also be posting updates here as the book goes through the final stages before publication.
  • On the conference front, it looks like I will be speaking at this year's Lavacon in Portland in October. Lavacon has rapidly become on of my favorite events of the year, and I always enjoy speaking there.

As I mentioned, overall a great week - and a great start to the New Year.