SXSW Day 1: The Content Path

Posted on March 12, 2010 by Comments Off

SXSW Day 1, I took the content path. The three-panel series – which they called workshops (not sure I entirely agree with that nomenclature though) – boil down to this:


  1. You need a content strategy. Let me tell you why. Because words are cheaper than comps. Because a cohesive UX requires a conduit between the designers, the copywriters and the brand strategists. Because effective message delivery starts with a good message architecture. And because messages across channels become disjointed without an editorial calendar to ensure consistency and adherence to message goals. Also, you want a social media strategy? There is no social media strategy without a content strategy. Content strategy is core to conversation strategy. Passionately presented by Margot Bloomstein. See her slides here.
  2. Don’t be afraid of the scary spreadsheet, it’s here to help. Three streams of a product strategy are design strategy, technology strategy and content strategy. Content strategy is often the missing link. So how do you approach a content strategy? Four-stage process: discover, design, develop, deploy. The majority of the discussion dug into the details of what the discover process looks like (“a really scary spreadsheet!”) – both quantitative/get the facts and subjective/assess the quality. Overall, the panel contained a lot of good content, but at such deep detail as to be more suited for a handbook than a presentation. Hope Rachel and Karen make the slides available. In the meantime, my stream-of-consciousness notes are captured here.
  3. 90 percent of everything is crud. Particularly on the Web. Bah. According to Richard Ziade and Tim Meaney of Arc90, the state of publishing can be summed up by Sturgeon’s law. We are sacrificing quality for quantity. The art of composition – mise-en-scene in theater terms – has largely disappeared. The idea of assembling content around an editorial vision is also gone on the Web today. All content is created equal, so it just sort of streams by. And far from the concept of an ambient content stream that we dine upon, we are in fact haplessly gorging ourselves. Why? As noted in the NYT article about why people share articles, people crave shared experience. So where do we go from here? Richard presented a series of “hopeful signs” to counter Tim’s “issues,” but they were tentative at best. Whither the editor. I think I missed the revenge part … perhaps that came in the form of our midsession emergency evacuation? More details in my stream-of-consciousness notes here.

My two cents: Content strategy is mission critical on three levels: process/workflow, social media conversation-building, and user experience. The latter gets at Tim and Richard’s gripe with the direction content has been taking as print media collapses and content online becomes sliced into ever smaller pieces. It’s true that editorial curation is getting lost on the social Web, but I would argue that it is being replaced by tools that allow us to self-curate, or to select curators in the form of those influence multipliers that we choose to follow.

And we DO have the ability to control the flow through the pipes (though we sometimes forget). But we don’t have as much control over the aesthetic presentation of the content we consume. This is where I see the crux of the need – and the opportunity – for good content strategy. Not simply designing and filling the pipes, but structuring and packaging the experience of the content flow. Mise-en-scène.

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