May 11, 2011

What is Content?

Content is a popular word these days especially on the internet.  The recent AOL-Huffington Post merger markets itself as an acquisition that “will solidify AOL’s strategy of creating a premier content network” with the support of professional journalists and bloggers.  Meanwhile, the Yahoo Contributor Network allows you to “find your audience and earn money by publishing your unique perspectives on Associated Content.”  Indeed, with the pervasion of so many mediums enabling businesses, organizations and individuals to speak their mind, the next logical question is, “okay, now that you have the mic in hand, what are you going to say?”  That’s where our good old friend Content comes along.

1) The things that are held or included in something
2) The substance or material dealt with in a speech, literary work, etc., as distinct from its form or style

Now that we have confirmed what Content is (and you’re probably thinking, duh, I knew that one already, Aron), the next set of questions appear in the form of, 1) What kind of Content to produce? 2) Who is the audience?  And, what is becoming ever more important these days, particularly in the world of writing and publishing, 3) How will the Content reach its intended audience?

With the proliferation of handheld devices and electronics, the third question has taken on an importance like never before.  For centuries, ink and paper were one of the primary mechanisms through which information was shared and while still in a dominant position, the digital word has begun to rise as well with Kindles, iPads, smartphones and other devices enabling readers like never before.  In the publishing world there have typically been standard book sizes, trims, print runs, page counts, etc., but digital print has the potential to change how we view a book and the Content’s shape and form. 

Ten years from now, will we still apply the same concepts of Content for printed books to digital devices?  Will ebooks still be required to have several hundred pages to be considered a book?  Will ebooks even have the term “books” appended to the “e” in the future?  Will they evolve to include different lengths, formats and perhaps include elements of traditional print with interactive media like movies, music, graphics, etc.?  As a partial answer, there are debates taking place about Content vs. Container and which is more important in terms influencing the other.  As an example, a Kindle is considered the Container while the text you’re reading on it is the Content.  The question though is whether or not the Kindle Container is starting to influence the Content read on its screen and which ultimately has a greater impact on the consumer/reader? has a great post about the Content vs. Container argument called, Do Bound Books, eReaders, iPads Determine Content? which in turn inspired my own post.  Diabolicaltoy’s post features a Twitter conversation about this argument along with follow-up commentary and is a great read.

Personally, I’m excited by the potential changes and possibilities held by new digital devices and the Content they can provide, but I’m also not trumpeting doom and gloom for print media by any means.  Like many people, I have shelves at home stacked with all sorts of book, but also enjoy the portability of my Kindle too.  As with many things in life the result will probably be a balance somewhere in between and whether you prefer to curl up in bed at night with a good book or your Kindle, either way your intent is the same: to enjoy the Content on your page or screen regardless of the Container.

What are your thoughts about Content vs. Container?  Do you think digital print will evolve separately from print books into another unique format for experiencing stories?