Published on June 26th, 2009 | by Rahel Bailie19
A practical definition of content
In light of the previous post about the definition of content strategy, this post gets down to brass tacks about the other end of content strategy: the content itself.
Content can be described as “everything” (Rachel Lovinger quoting Chris Sizemore) but let’s refine that definition to something more tangible, a definition that can be employed by practitioners and stakeholders for the purpose of designing user experiences.
Simply put, content is contextualized data.
A few years back, I read an anecdote about someone who would send the Google folks a period email with a number. That was the entire email, a single number. Eventually, the recipients figured out that the number was a comment on too many words on the Google home page. Was that email content or data? There is no absolutely right or wrong, but I would posit that without the context of the number, it wasn’t content, it was data.
The number 12 is an example of data. It may have a context in the sense that we know it is more than 11 and less than 13. But it doesn’t have meaning for a reader until there is a practical context:
- a dozen eggs
- players on a team
- children on a schoolbus
- dollars to purchase a product
There is a different type of contrast:
In each case, the commonality is that the context that helps with cognitive processing of content.
The practical application of this definition of content could be understood through the following example. A catalogue in a catalogue will have content attached to it: a product description, a photo, perhaps a video of the product in use. There will also be data that gets attached to the content – a SKU, a price. As soon as the data can be understood in context, it has become part of the content.
Content strategists understand the importance of managing content throughout its entire lifecycle, from analysis of business requirements and planning right through to archiving and forensic e-discovery. I believe that what differentiates us from the information management side is that we don’t treat information as data to be managed. For us, context is a critical part of designing the user experience. So while information management and content management is more consumed more with the technologies behind the management and delivery mechanisms, content strategy is closer to the contextual understanding of content, including contextualized data, for the benefit of the consumers of that content.