Content strategy lightning talks night

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 26 January 2012

As part of his talk Michael Alves described content as “all the things that are fun in your application”, and there was no doubt that the lightning talks evening about content strategy arranged by Jonathan Kahn and Richard Ingram was fun. Limiting the talks to five minutes each and using the Ignite format meant the event ran like clockwork, and between 6:30 and 8:00 a parade of eleven different speakers had given a range of talks on topics like semantic mark-up, web governance, open source software, feeling gloomy and kicking things in the pants.

Peter Springett finished the night with a talk about putting value on content. He made two great points. Firstly, he thought that it was great that the job title “content strategist” suddenly seemed to have opened the doors for content people to have conversations with IAs, designers, developers and so on, in a way that didn’t happen a few years ago.

Secondly, he put an emphasis on speaking the language of the business - if you can’t convey the value of content to the CEO in terms that they understand, the business will fail to grasp the value of content strategy.

I couldn’t agree with this more. I always find it so odd in the UX world that we go to great lengths to empathise with the end user, and then give jargon-laden presentations inside the business which don’t empathise with the requirements and understanding of the financial director or marketing team.

Jonny Rose raised a laugh when he pointed out that being a CMS wasn’t good enough anymore. Publishing platforms like SiteCore have registered trademarks like “compelling web experiences”, although we all know the experience of using most CMS tools is a painful one.

Tom Bamford was talking about improving semantic mark-up, and giving a quick run-through of why you should be using mark-up like <abbr> and title="" on our pages. Standards-based semantic HTML has been the the thing to do for a good number of years now. I couldn’t help feel that the fact that Tom still feels the need to give a talk like this in 2012 shows how far behind web standards many CMS vendors - and the dreaded “HTML” output of Word - are.

Mags Hanley gave a lovely talk which was a small case study of a small business. Formums.net is aimed at mums in the Chiswick area, and Mags said “Kate does not have a proposition if she does not have a content strategy.” This means thinking hard about defining a manageable set of content to be producing, planning ahead for special events like Valentine’s Day, and having a genuine focus on the needs of the audience.

At the opposite end from a small-scale business, David Farbey explained why corporate content needs a kick in the pants. He talked about the common problem, that whilst your internet and marketing team can carefully hone the copy and micro-copy that greets visitors when they reach your website, the chances are the technical specifications document, brochure and help guide were not written with the end web user in mind. Corporations often can’t even force their staff to use the same PowerPoint template, let alone enforce a style guide.

(Incidentally, with his talk being about a kick in the pants, and an early promise that he was going to finish with a picture of a “wide open space”, I was quite concerned that the last slide was going to be goatse)

Magus were sponsoring the evening, and gave a talk about their software ActiveStandards which can monitor a large website to find breaches in standards, and identify bits of the operation that are going off-piste. Sadly, I think we are still some way off of being able to plug the Guardian Style Guide into an algorithm and then send it off looking for mistakes on websites like mine or the Guardian itself, which try to adhere to it.

Steve Parks pointed out an interesting study by Gartner about the composition of software used inside enterprises. Where the split between proprietary, open source and internal build software had been skewed heavily in favour of licensed proprietary software, the last few years had seen a massive growth in the implementation of both open source and internal builds. He conjectured that this was because these two forms of software were able to collaborate - some internally developed tools get outsourced, and open source libraries help speed the development of internal tools. He said collaboration was the key to making progress, and outlined some rather progressive Drupal sharing between Sony and Warners in a vertical not known for their forward-thinking about open source technologies.

There are another couple of more comprehensive sets of notes from the night from Gabriel Smy - “Struck by content strategy lightning talks” - and my self-styled “arch-event blogging rival” Adam Tinworth - “Content Strategy, Like Lightning...” The event was also filmed, so I expect the talks to be online in due course.

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