Moving to Content Platforms

Credit to Anni Betts for the image 

Michael Cusomano talks about building platforms rather than products to maintain ‘staying power’.

As we move to the Create Once and Publish Everywhere model, storytellers, editors and content producers will need their companies to develop content platforms rather than uber-CMS’, websites and apps. NPR, for instance, publish out an API that can be used in any application. This approach doesn’t necessarily mean investing in Digital Asset Management (DAM ) systems or centralised Content Management Systems. An alternative is to develop a common technical layer to bind various tools’ outputs into a common publishing mechanism or content platform.

This is not purely a technical exercise. You need to have a common content structure, taxonomy, editorial approach and feedback process to assess the impact of content across channels.


Content Structure 

There needs to be a way of breaking content like articles down into components, not just Title, Strapline, Body, but also microformats that can present machine recognisable modules to aggregators and search engines. These formats then appear as well presented stubs in results split out by events or place for instance . is a good place to focus on for this, as is Google’s cards. The benefits of using such formats for events or places is evident as eConsultancy recently described. This format also future proofs the content for new mediums and uses by endowing the content with sub-components to slice and dice. 


Taxonomy (aka categorisations)

Credit to Tim Pashuysen for the image

Content that isn’t categorised is pretty useless. How can you aggregate, cross -connect and describe the topic of the piece without it? The power of categorisation is to allow different content sets to exist together across your organisation and the wider web, enabling machines to not only integrate technically but also conceptually.

However there are a number of key considerations when developing your categorisations. The categorisation schema needs to meet internal business needs, external audience needs and broader web standards to work most effectively. Internally the business needs to segment content into the topics it has strengths in and areas that support it’s strategic aims. The audience needs must be core to any categorisation, these are the labels and concepts that will be searched on or browsed by.User testing and analytics reviews are critical to moving away from internally minded groupings. Equally editors need to be able to quickly and practically tag up content, so the depth, coverage and complexity may need to be rationalised, after user testing the CMS.

Open or external taxonomy standards turn a content management system into an extensible content platform. By using schemas that other systems and services use, the options and velocity increase for you content. Whether you’re syndicating content externally or pulling in external feeds for a topic area or events, mapping to a common taxonomy like DBpedia speeds up integration through mass automation. At BBC Music hundreds of thousands of new artist pages were dynamically created in days, aggregating content from internal and external sources like Wikipedia, just by using open Musicbrainz IDs. 


Editorial Approach

Content Platforms need content creators to approach editorial in a different way. Instead of laying out pages, content creators need to create content modules which can be used in a number of contexts and devices. This requires a degree of compromise over the exact execution of editorial, but the overhead of re-versioning for thousands of situations, devices and orientations is too much for any organisation to manage. This is a compromise that pretty much every news organisation and content organisation has had to make – but the payback has been immense.

Writing for cross-platform forces an adjustment in how copy and imagery is edited. The smallest rendering of content needs to catered for first, then additional components are added where the medium allows, but without guarantee of being seen. Photography cropping is especially tricky for wide shots, even with focal point server-side auto-cropping. Either multiple crops and breakpoint versioning (such as Picturefill ) is required or selection of images that are close ups, to avoid underwealming imagery when small. There will be occasions for bold feature pieces like Snowfall where custom crops are essential, but these are special commissions.


Feedback loop

Credit to BRaVe Ventures for the image

 Creating content using creativity and flare in a multiplatform publishing model is definitely needed , it’s just that auteurs must listen to feedback to create content that resonates. Setting up tracking to follow how much, where, to whom and to what level of engagement provides success measurements and insights to develop editorial.

It is really important to set up the metrics in a way that reflects the real impact that you’re trying to have by creating content. Not every article is going to get a hundred thousand views, but it may be highly influential for a core group (Velvet Underground effect). Quality and specific content aims must define what success is , not just volumes; otherwise your site will be full of kittens, One Direction stories and Apple rumours. 

 The measurement of content impacts is great, but to avoid the ever decreasing circle of positive reinforcement, trend analysis is required.

Both social, search and competitor trend analysis may inspire an idea and allow you to gage demand too. Bringing those metrics to the budget holders is exactly how Netflix commissioned the sublime House of Cards – what big feature could you get funding for with powerful stats? 

 Engagement with commentary and critics is where you get qualitative proof and guidance. Don’t fire off monologues – respond and evolve from the ideas you’ve put out there. Digital journalism isn’t about creating epic articles, it’s about communicating unique insights with communities that change perceptions in numerous ways.

Content Platforms are not purely technical, but involve changing processes and ensuring new data systems enhance communications rather than take them over.

What other factors help a content platform succeed?

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