Content is Collective

[September 8, 2009]

The well-worn phrase “Content is King” reminds me of the classic elementary school joke, in which our internal organs debate who should be in charge.

It also reminds me of the current mania for reducing a discussion of complex marketing issues to rigidly functional terms.

At this late stage, I’m surprised anyone still sees content as “modular.” As if doing great work has ever been a Lego®-like affair, a matter of snapping components together until you finish the project and can settle down with some milk and cookies.

My other problem with “Content is King” is its implication that content and context are separate entities, rather than different sides of the same coin. It suggests that Web sites, for example, are best created by pouring content into a pre-fab design template, like concrete into a roadbed.

Yet, even in social networking environments, where it may appear that content is everything, members can’t connect without an infrastructure that actively encourages participation. Without its infrastructure, Facebook would be no more than a gigabyte-gobbling stack of e-mails.

In that sense, the Facebook user-experience, its context, plays an integral part in giving the content its meaning. It’s what turns a laundry list of status updates, video links, photo galleries, chat windows and branded apps into a living community.

From this it’s clear that citing content as the benchmark for success is not only misguided but also a bit silly. It conjures up images of accursed webmasters, doomed to rove the ‘net in their insatiable hunger for a good “feed.”

On the other hand, it also goes a long way to explaining why online researchers encounter the same phrases over and over again. As of today, September 8, 2009, a Google search for “Take the stairs instead of the elevator” yields 181,000 results.

Based on that data, it seems a more appropriate catch phrase might be “Content is Clone.” Led astray by the delusion that audience retention depends solely on finding the right block of copy, many people are building their Web presence out of borrowed value.

This issue is even more critical, now that content is not predominantly text, but a rich counterpoint of text, video, animation and widgetry. As I see it, this broader definition of content empowers us to perceive user-experience as a seamless interchange between content and context.

So, as comforting as it might be to know “who’s in charge,” setting content on a pedestal severely limits your ability to connect with your audience. Online or offline, anything you wish to say can only be heard collectively, in the context of the total conversation. But here I’m in danger of evoking another reductive slogan.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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