Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

The Rise and Rise of Content Junk

The amount content we produced in 2011 alone exceeded the content created in all previous years combined. ALL previous years combined! We more than doubled the size of our digital content universe.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if all that content could get everywhere it needed to be today.  It can’t. Instead, it’s trapped in the applications (CMS, DAM,Word) and/or channels (e.g. Web, Email) that created it.  This is not a sustainable business model for many companies that create and publish content to better engage with their customers.

It’s stupid, costly and uncompetitive to create great content and not invest the time and effort to make it structured and meaningful. To make it future friendly. And yet the rate of growth for digital content continues to rise exponentially, more than doubling every couple of years.  It’s time to stop creating more content (junk) and start making content work more.

What is Content Junk?

We don’t start out wanting to create content junk.  We all want to create and consume great content.  However, this is a garbage in, garbage out world. Our content will naturally tend towards becoming junk if we don’t take the necessary steps to make it intelligent.  To add structure so that it has integrity and knows how it is linked to the digital universe.  To add meaning so that its well-understood, finable and self-describing.  No matter how great your content is, if you don’t equip it with the smarts to survive in tomorrow’s digital universe, it will quickly become lost and irrelevant.  It will be yet another piece of content junk.

Content junk is content we create that cannot get everywhere it needs to be.

Big content get bigger.

We are creating and consuming data, content and information at phenomenal rate. It’s mind boggling.  A quick skim through big data statistics shows:

  • As of May 2012, 2.7 zettabytes (ZB) of data exists in the digital universe.
  • In 2011, we created 1.8 zettabytes (roughly 200 billion HD movies).
  • Unstructured content is growing at a rate of 80% year on year.

Although we can store all this content, why would you if the majority of it is going to become content junk?

If we are a little smarter about our content, we would save enormous amounts time, effort and money in so many areas across the lifecycle of our content.  New business opportunities would present themselves for content that is accessible, adaptable, reusable and findable.  Countless stories are being reported of successful companies benefiting from intelligent content (see last paragraph).

Content junk is avoidable.  More importantly, it doesn’t require a massive up front investment. The first step is acknowledging that you have content junk.  The next step is to figure out how to stop creating the damned stuff.

Making content work more.

Putting your content to work requires that you make it more intelligent. Instead of just creating content, structure it and add meaning. What does that means?  Well take the time to define a business vocabulary for content (taxonomy) and model the content within this context (content modelling).  If you create an article, how does it relate to other content that creates value for the business?  Who consumes those articles?  And when? And where? And how?  What are the end-to-end content production processes (workflow) and what tools are you providing for your content people to enable them to be effective and productive (author experience) at their job?  Answering these questions, and so many more, goes a long way to better structuring your content.  Only then can we start putting content to work and really sweating the assets.

Content needs a path.

We need to give content both a purpose and a path.  The purpose is the one that always gets done.  Someone can always articulate why a product or service is important to their business, and then the content will come.  However, the path is typically vague, ambiguous and not covered well enough.  So as the content creator, what path are you setting for your content?  What’s the plan for where it should be today,  tomorrow, or 12 months from now?  Who needs to see it and why?  What forms does it need to assume tomorrow and what do we need to do today to accommodate them?  So what is your content strategy for future content?

Admittedly, these are hard questions for any business but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking them.  At the moment, the corporate horizon is firmly fixed on getting our content out onto mobile. We all know we need to go further.  And that mobile is means to start these deeper and wider conversations.  It’s a good start but only that.

Also, be prepared to pivot and change direction.  The path for content will change because we cannot envisage today everywhere our content needs to be tomorrow.  But here’s the thing.  We need to equip content with the enough smarts to be able to adapt to unforeseen future contexts. Not only do we have to make it smart from the start, but we have to smart enough to create the standards and policies for making our content smarter.  For that, we need need to plan for governance during the strategic phases of our projects.

Then, with smart content and a governance framework to make it smarter, we step aside and let it go.

What can you do now?

Are you creating content junk today?  If you are, there are things YOU can do slow this down.  Read up structured content here, here and here.  These provide real-world examples of how and why this is important businesses today.  Next, understand why content modelling is an important master skill and get yourself to a workshop to learn more about the art of designing structured content.  In the meantime, the content modelling series has a few articles on the topic.



Category: content architecture, content modelling, content strategy


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About Cleve Gibbon

I'm a technologist passionate about enabling consumers, employees, and clients do more with less, whilst having fun at the same time.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently doing.