A week ago or so, I had the opportunity to attend Content Strategy Workshops right after LavaCon this year. It was quite the experience. With so many tracks to learn from, I had to choose wisely. I took notes in hopes that people who went to different tracks or had to miss the conference could use them.

Rather than the usual session recap, I organized some of my notes into a prevalent theme from the two days: optimizing content for the future.

Ann Rockley reminded us that we can't predict what device manufacturers will do next.

Ann Rockley talks about future-proofing content. Scott Abel agrees.

Since we’ll never be able to know what device manufacturers are going to create next, we can prepare our content to be device-neutral and super adaptive to organizational and user needs. As the next mobile phone and tablet come out (we’re up to 800+ devices worldwide now), we can’t just keep rethinking our content. By structuring it and preparing it ahead of time to adapt to device and user needs, we reduce production costs, making it much easier to focus those resources on other business needs.

"There's so much information to share, but it's often locked in big tomes," said Rockley.

Let’s free this useful data! It’s our mission as content strategists to advocate for the contextual and sustainable use of this data for our organizations and our users.

Rockley presented case studies from the Rockley Group, where they worked with clients like Human Kinetics and the American Society of Training and Development in creating adaptive web content. Each case study took a structural approach to content and yielded results such as format freedom, quick eBook iteration and the ability to respond to future content initiatives in a fraction of the traditional development time.

Rockley emphasized that success for each case study was only attainable by answering key questions, such as:

  • What do we have to work with?
  • What do people want to see?
  • What can be eliminated?
  • How do we structure data to support this content?

With structure being important and all, Rahel Bailie showed us how to dig into content typing and modeling.

Bailie took her workshop through a content typing and modeling exercise that illustrated how to begin structuring data. The goal of her exercise was not just to do a practical, hands-on demo of typing and modeling, but to push the attitude of “getting in at the ground floor of content to greatly influence the user experience.”

The exercises took us through typing and modeling simple data architectures, like a recipe for example. It was interesting to see Bailie break something like a recipe down into its technical schema, like the ingredients and steps, and then assemble it into social conventions, like modeling it into a format that people recognize as “a recipe.”

It was a simple exercise to double check all of the work and thought that should be done at this foundational level with content projects of any size. The more we put into the structuring early on, the more device-neutral and adaptive our content can be regardless of the future state of devices and platforms.

Lucie Hyde reminded us that we still need to keep a close eye on user expectations.

Lucie Hyde tells us about her Ebay Global Support project.

Hyde gave us a look into the recent Ebay Global Help System revamp. The goal was to break down global help in a more targeted way and build a support content initiative that took the outdated, 7-year-old content and turned it into a resource for Ebay’s continually-growing user base.

She briefly explained her team’s process with the revamp of the help system, where she took the content through a methodology of analysis, collection, management and publication. The scale of the project was large, even with the test-case of Ebay UK. However, the most impressive part of the demonstration was the focus on meeting the unique expectation of their users.

According to Hyde, Ebay support users prefer learning by doing, and then asking friends, followed by seeking advice on forums and the social web. This insight led to adapting the support user journey into focusing less on the upfront needs, but more on the need of users who seek help further into their relationship with Ebay. It’s less “if you build it, they will use it,” and much more “let’s build something to adapt to this waiting period.” It’s also another look at how to future-proof content by solving for new elements of the user journey, beyond just rehashing support content in favor of a newer version.

Kyle Wiens inspired us to keep creating structured, usable content, but to also have fun and take chances in doing so.

Kyle Wiens talks iFixit and dismantles an iPad.

Wiens is the CEO of iFixit, a DIY repair community and gadget parts retailer, and Dozuki, a publishing platform for technical documents, manuals and support content. He can also apparently take apart an iPad in seconds, as demonstrated by the photo above.

Wiens told his iFixit story during a workshop breakfast. He explained how the company started as an e-commerce site for parts for your favorite gadgets, and blossomed into a DIY repair community where users publish most of iFixit’s popular content on the web. This transformation wasn’t planned at all. Wiens explained how the company reacted to the support needs of their customers, developing content to meet these needs and then taking a chance by allowing access to this content free of charge.

What followed turned iFixit into not just another e-commerce site, but a thought and mindshare leader in DIY repairs. The high quality of DIY content led iFixit into new opportunities and ventures, such as the development of Dozuki and partnerships with engineering programs. The iFixit talk showed us that users gravitate toward and are willing to contribute their own time into great, usable content.

So okay, structured content is great, but what now?

The talks by Rockley, Bailie, Hyde and Wiens not only show us the power and flexibility of structured, adaptive content, but also highlight the immense amounts of effort in discovery and alignment that we need to get these kinds of project to the finish line. Before we can dig into an audit, user research and start tagging data, we need to put the same amount of enthusiasm and energy into socializing our ideas and vision of better content to stakeholders, developers and other colleagues. We need to get these clients and colleagues behind us, supporting content initiatives, rather than resisting the change towards something better.

These foundational alignment and discovery elements contain many collective challenges toward creating future-proof content for our organizations. They’re challenges, however, that content strategists the world over face and have the willingness to share their stories to inspire one another.

What’s your story? Will you share it at the next Content Strategy Workshops?