There’s nothing more hollow than “content”. When taking about the internet (especially online marketing) it has come to imply depth, a wealth of information, the “meat” in your digital sandwich. Unfortunately, it’s an escape route for actually talking about what will be covered, ultimately making it sound vague and vacuous. People always assume that a PR team or a copywriter will just fill in the gaps and hey presto – you’ve gone and done yourself a website.
Sadly there’s no other way to phrase it. Marketing mavens have thrashed this word and now the rest of us have to deal with it. So, for the record, what exactly are we talking about?
Content, most often, means an article but it can stretch to anything: an image, a story, a video, a comment. Recently these bits of information have become uncoupled from their moorings and can be accessed independently of the web page they normally appear on. This data is now dynamic and can be included as part of a stream/ feed, as well as being linked to directly. Information has become more granular, more independent and whatever we might think, a web page is no longer the smallest free-standing component of the internet.
Now this information (aka content) has grown legs. Orbital content, thanks largely to mobile devices, is allowing people to take this info around with them. Of course, the idea is not exactly new; we’ve been carrying books, pamphlets and newspapers around with us for hundreds of years. What’s changed are the quantity we can carry, the format, the speed and the ease with which we can download this information, usually wirelessly.
We have never had it so good. One gadget (a Kindle for example) have unparalleled access to information, anytime, anywhere. In the past, most of our news and knowledge was mediated by several major channels (a newspaper and it’s editor). Now, with the fragmentation of media channels, it’s limitless. There are still major magazines and websites, but now there are so many choices that someone has to pick which sources and articles we read. That someone is us – we’ve become our own editors.
It’s a bit tricky for me to explain, because I grew up when internet technology was coming of age. Before I could afford things like a Kindle i’d subscribe to one or two magazines and read a newspaper at the weekend. I decided how much of them I read and which ones I liked. Now that information can be had for free via the internet, the number of sources I read has rocketed.
Theoretically we can each create our own magazine with just the articles that we want. Paper.li, Instapaper, Google Reader, Feedly and hundreds of other sites are giving us the tools to choose what we read and assemble this information. We’re becoming our own editors, curating what we want to immerse ourselves in. This is hugely liberating, so much so that we’re now presented with unlimited choice. We can package any information, from anywhere and call it our own. The freedom scares us, which is why we value well-curated information more than ever before.
Carefully crafted experiences are even more valuable because they’re so rare. Take-aways and the culture of home cooking haven’t killed off the restaurant industry; in the same way orbital content won’t completely destroy publishing. It will, however, put well curated news, stories and articles at a premium. Content is still king, but now the secret is in the curation.