One thing I think about a lot is what the future of content delivery will look like. The first anniversary of the launch of TheMediaBriefing last month has got me gnawing on this again.
How should relevance be determined? How can we effectively blend comprehensiveness with effective disambiguation? If we want comprehensiveness then how do we find ways of including media content that is not in search-friendly formats? When just two years ago we all obsessed about search engine optimisation (SEO), the talk today is all about paywalls and apps – two models where the content is invisible to search engines and the wider web.
As the web has become bigger, the challenge of search becomes larger. Google, which used to be defined as a search company, is now clearly something else. It provides cloud computing services, mobile and PC operating systems, browser technology, social media platforms, advertising services and more. The Google brand has reached far beyond search (see this excellent post by John Battelle on that theme).
Discovery is the key to everything
But nevertheless the fundamental and necessary requirement for a user is discovery. If a user cannot find what he or she wants, all the operating systems, behavioural advertising, and smartphone and tablet wonders are just so much technology.
That is why there is real hope for the folk we used to call publishers. There is a role to play in breaking the digital content universe, which expands endlessly, into manageable galaxies and solar systems. The digital content user will never be interested in the entire universe of content – users come pre-programmed with enthusiasms and interests that define the content we publishers have to put before them. The process for doing this is at the heart of the modern publishers challenge.
It was always thus. A publisher of an angling magazine knows not to fill his title with knitting patterns. The modern publisher should know this too. But many don’t.
I had the privilege of being a judge in the IPG Independent Publishers’ Awards last week (by the way I am chairing a panel at their conference on November 10 so do come along). There were, among the entries, some interesting digital products.
But there were also some shockers. I won’t mention any names as we all sign a confidentiality agreement. But the crimes included: long articles with no links to referenced material; a site with no internal search facility at all and several sites with navigation channels drawn from the structure of a printed magazine (news, opinion, features etc) but no topic guidance of any kind.
Our approach at Briefing Media to solving the discovery problem has been to curate and thread content together – some original, some third-party – and then develop ways to help readers discover the stuff that’s useful through human selection, semantic search and a huge taxonomy (our live database now contains tens of thousands of related terms).
We think that getting this right is the key to what we do. It is not the only approach that might work of course, but it is at least an approach. What really worries me is that many publishers are failing to get even the basics of helping users discover relevant content right.
So, if you are a media owner go and check out the following. For every answer where you discover the answer is “no”, make a tick mark with your quill pen.
1) Does every page of your web site contain an internal search box?
2) Is every article or piece of content tagged with terms that explain its meaning or what it is about?
3) Where a piece of content refers to another piece of content whether it be published by you or someone else is there always a hyperlink to the source?
4) When you read your navigation buttons, do they mean anything at all? In other words are they about topics that readers might be interested in?
5) Does every story have simple to find social media widgets?
6) Do you tweet yourself?
7) Do you know how to measure the effectiveness of your site in developing engagement with your users? If you said yes, but think the answer is something to with unique users or session times or bounce rates, treat that as a no and punish yourself by ramming the quill up your nose.
Do you publish new material every day?
As digital content becomes ever harder to navigate there is a great opportunity for publishers and editors to reassert themselves by aiding specialist discovery. Packaging and organising content is the key skill we bring to digital content. Whether you are thinking about apps, or curation, or metered content or data, make sure the basics are done well.