Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

What Is Content?

To this point, we have talked a lot about content without really defining it. As a descriptive term, "content" is being stretched to its limits as new ideas and uses for information emerge from the Internet and personal, mobile technology. For example, "user-generated content" is created by a group who shares common interests and voices opinions on Web sites like epinions.com, Amazon.com, and Ebay. Your physical location in space at this moment can be a form of content as GPS-enabled mobile devices offer Yellow Pages, walking directions, maps, instant messaging, travel information, and city guides.

For our purposes, "content" is shorthand for messages or subject matter embodied in some definable format—email messages, spreadsheets, word-processing documents, videos, reports, and the like. This notion of "embodiment" is essential to our discussion. To make it more comprehensible, we need to differentiate content, information, data, and documents, as illustrated in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1Figure 1.1 Content Forms

Information is abstract in the sense that we can think of it as independent of its form. For instance, "Sales of graphite-shaft drivers are up 20 percent this year in the Rocky Mountain region" is information. It can be embodied in a number of documents, such as a video address from the regional sales vice president, a report generated from a database query, or a memo from the regional sales vice president to the chief executive officer. Although theoretically independent of its documents, however, information isn't practically possible without some form of embodiment, whether a document or something more ephemeral like a conversation—it has to live in some shape or form. Even a verbal statement that isn't documented is an embodiment.

Information can be managed only when it is embodied as content, which represents a specific combination of information and a manageable document. An ephemeral statement not embodied in a document that can be captured and stored isn't manageable and therefore isn't "content" in our use of the term. Rather, the information must be captured in a medium that can be made available (physically or electronically) to those who consider it interesting or useful. Content can be classified, shelved (physically), filed (electronically), tagged with metadata, and so forth.

As an example, consider the rollout of a new brand management campaign in a large technology company. The company has spent a great deal of time developing a new brand message along with new logos, corporate colors, and other necessary elements. As part of the campaign, all employees are educated on the new brand message, which will be disseminated via the intranet. The same information—"Turning Ideas into Actions"—has been embodied in a number of documents—PowerPoint slides, corporate brochure (print and .pdf), video, scripts. These documents allow the same message to be embodied, managed, and disseminated as individual pieces of content for the benefit of all relevant audiences.

We consider data to be "raw," unlike information. A collection of data in a set of relational tables certainly has an embodiment—the table structure—but it doesn't exist as information until it is accessed and arranged by a query or some other logic that puts it into a meaningful context, usually in answer to a question: "How are sales of graphite-shaft drivers progressing in different regions?" The query turns the data into information and renders it in some document as content.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account