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Published on October 18th, 2011 | by Rahel Bailie

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Defining Content in the Age of Technology

If I were to define content through a formula, the technopower would look something like this (and thanks to Joe Gollner for his help in articulating this):

Why I say that is because of a concept borrowed from the financial industry called asset amplification. In the context of financial markets, asset amplification describes how changes of wealth in financial markets causes amplification because of follow-on consequences. (Thanks to the Journal of Financial Economics article by Wei Xiong explaining how this works.) Similarly, the power of copy can be amplified if it is placed into a robust technology framework. Once copy is placed inside of a framework, it becomes the content of that framework. Like coffee is the “content” of a cup, copy is the content within a technology framework. And like a super-hero with the appropriate gear, copy, with the appropriate framework, gets super-powers, too.

The super-power of content is the potential for follow-on consequences of copy because of the underlying technopower is what turns copy into content. Thinking back a few years, communications coordinators who organized events would type out the event details: event name, start and time, place, cost, and so on, and then spend hours copying and pasting the event into sites that would allow them to paste it into a provided text box or, even more time-consuming, complete a set of form fields that the coordinators had to fill out individually. Today, we use content feeds which allow events to be amplified with no manual intervention. This is done through the technopower of the underlying technology framework.

As we get away from brochureware to robust interactivity, the need for rich semantic content grows. Again, copy, multiplied by technopower, makes content which can be processed by other systems. The event example was a simple one, but there are increasing levels of complexity, from “simple” publishing to the kind of interactivity and outputs that allow for successive complex transformations of content. We are all familiar with how content gets syndicated, but what may be a surprise is how much content is manipulated and transformed within a system. Each transformation provides the potential for additional amplification, and eventually provides a much richer user experience for the content consumer.

In the end, content may be nothing without copy; however, in a post-paper world, copy is nothing without content.

Previous post: Turning Copy into Content


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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,



3 Responses to Defining Content in the Age of Technology

  1. seamus.walsh says:

    Rahel, WOW! Great insight. As a relative nube and self-educating content strategist, I have been struggling to articulate content complexity for years. I have found that a piece of content on a client facing website may induce the requirement for a similar but different piece of content later down the road, e.g. during a sales cycle. That piece of content may in turn create the the requirement for a related but different piece of content as a product deliverable, and again as a support asset.

    What I struggled with was how to articulate how content increases in complexity as it enters one or more business processes and contexts. Asset amplification will help me do that.

    Thank you for sharing that.

  2. Joe Gollner says:

    Asset amplification is a very useful concept when it comes to weighing the value of good content positioned within a suitable deployment framework. The formula I have been playing with really doesn’t exactly address the value of the content and that may be a good thing. It is focused purely on the fact that content is made up of a variety of interrelated components and that together they make possible a wide array of information transactions. If there is merit in the consequences thereby produced then the asset amplification effect is clear – the content behind the scenes that is enabling all those effective transactions has an aggregate value at least equal to the positive effects being created (or that can be projected over a period of time).

    The trouble with value calculations though is that its quantification, and predictability, are notoriously difficult to get a handle on. In some ways, the entire edifice of economics can be seen as a yet-to-be-successful attempt in this direction. For example, it would be possible for the value of a set of information transactions to suddenly become negative because something in the environment changed and the new context fundamentally changed the reception of the messages. So what was accumulating as a positive value suddenly shifts to becoming a negative value. It is still asset amplification – just in the opposite direction.

  3. Is this a misleading formula: copy + social amplification = content?
    I mean as you are using the words.

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