Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Content is Slave, not King

Contrary to popular myth, Content is NOT "King." Completely dependent on other factors, Content is actually...a Slave.

Many times, not only is Content not King, but Content poses as a Drag Queen -- something prancing around, dancing as corporations pull its strings, pretending to be something it's not.

Content cannot be King. Dethroned, or better, usurped by Connectivity, Presentation, and Interactivity, Content is low man on the totem pole.

Often, people search for pure Content, like movies, music, news and opinions. But even then, if the content is poorly organized, badly displayed, hard to navigate, or non-interactive, it will be ignored.

Many times, when someone is consuming content they enjoy or find valuable, their first impulse is to interact with it. They want to post a comment, a question, a praise or a complaint. Some may want to enrich the content, add their own view, amplify or criticize it.

Content, to be effective and valuable, is entirely reliant upon other factors. Content is extremely important, but is not the ultimate, universally dominant entity.

To call Content a "king" is to revert to old fashioned imperialistic, phallocentric, male-dominated hierarchy. Even worse, "Content is King" is a meaningless mantra that people chant, without being able to explain it.

It almost goes without saying: fancy flashy packaging or presentation with poor content is going to fail. But even the world's best content, all by itself, just sits there, isolated, accomplishing nothing, attracting nobody.

One thing many business owners don't understand, when it comes to websites, is how important Content is. Sometimes they even think the web designer just "makes it up" for them. "I have to provide content for my site?" they say with a disappointed look on their face. "What kind?"

But to dump a bunch of Content into a website is not nearly enough. The hard part, or fun part (depending on how you look at it) is to keep adding fresh, relevant, updated Content. That's what search engines and consumers want.

Some say "all things being equal, good content beats bad or no content". But we could also say "Packaging is King" because nice, attractive packaging will be more compelling than ugly or no packaging.

Calling one element "king" allows people to get away with slighting other elements. A clueless corporate person might say, "I don't know why nobody visits our website. It's loaded with great content!"

Perhaps it's because your highly exalted Content is missing the synergists that make it complete. Things like Presentation, Understandability, Substantiating Links to Reputable Sources, Findability, Relevance, Timeliness, Update Frequency, Context, Usability and Navigation Ease.

If there is a "King" on the web, it's Connectivity. Caring and Sharing. Interactivity. But not Content, especially not the pre-packaged, corporate kind that comes in the form of broadcast homogeneity.

People care more about trivial but personal communication than they do about the "content" of professional hucksters like Big Entertainment, Big Advertising, Big Government, Big Religion, and even Big Sports.

Hit rewind.

Now that we've disrupted the mantra, dislodged the parroted mindset, let's back up a bit. Before we can decide if Content is King, Queen, Court Jester, Serf, or Villain, let's define what people generally mean by "Content".


What is content? This word derives from the Latin "contentum," which means "that which is contained," but this derivation is not very descriptive.

There is no precise definition, but generally content is used to denote material prepared by professionals to be used by large numbers of people, material such as books, newspapers, movies, or sports events. That is the sense in which it is used in this work. In general, content is distributed by "mass" or "broadcast" communications systems.


In this work I do not classify information services such as weather, directory assistance and airline schedules as content.

Many of the standard phone calls access just such services, and the Internet is leading to increasing usage of them. I also do not classify most of e-commerce as content.

Somebody going to the Godiva Web site may be exposed to creative work in the ads flashed on the screen, but is interested in purchasing a tangible good. These types of interactions will flourish on the Internet, and some will be merging with content, but they are more typical of the standard point-to-point communications.

-- "Content is Not King" by Andrew Odlyzko


While corporations, media, and other organizations try to hype their fabricated, often deceptive or over-priced Professional Content, consumers are sharing their own home-made, so-called Amateur Content.

From music and videos to photos and text, Do It Yourself Content is making Professional Content providers jealous. They want to go back to the good old days when the public was a passive, easily influenced group of spectators and consumers.

Perfect example is the telephone.

When it was first invented, Alexander Graham Bell thought it would deliver Content, not intimate connections between people. "Useless chit-chat" was discouraged and mocked, even as some still poke fun at the "triviality" of blogs and Twitter.

Take the post office as an illustration of Content vs. Connectivity or Professional Content vs. Do It Yourself Content.

The US government believed the main benefit of mail would be delivery of newspapers, a Content-rich medium. While newspapers did outweigh personal letters in pure data, people valued the mail system as a means to communicate with each other. Propaganda and mass entertainment were a distant second.

Those who keep shouting "Content is King!" often conceal a greedy agenda.

They typically mean "User Generated Content is Amateur Crap! Long Live Professional Content!" Or they want unpaid users to fill their social media site with Content, so they can put ads all over it and use the amateur content to lure search engines and paying customers.

They want to turn the internet into a broadcast medium. They see social media as comprised of sitting ducks, low hanging fruit, dumb chumps they can bombard with ads and seduce into buying their junk.

You, as a blogger, Twitter user, or website owner, need good Content, that's for sure. But if that's all you've got, if you don't pay adequate attention to the other factors that make Content valuable and easy to search, use, and share, you're doomed to fail.

Content is Slave...but it's a good, hard-working slave if it's under the right Task Masters!

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