Monday, November 30, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo: Kristina Halvorson: Content First

Kristina Halvorson [Picture taken from Flickr - not from Web 2.0 Expo]

The first talk I attended at the Web 2.0 Expo was “Content First: Why Content Strategy Will Save the Web” by Kristina Halvorson, of She is author of Content Strategy For The Web. Her presentation strongly underscored her belief that content is the major part of the web and that people involved with the web need to have conversation on content strategy (i.e. to recognize its primacy).

Her slide presentation (which can be read alongside my summary) is here:

[It should be remembered that the words that follow should not be taken literally as Halvorson's words, but my transcription of her talk, which may not accurately reflect its content.]

She began with a quote from Walter Landor (the “grandfather” of branding) who defined a brand:

“A brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or service it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality.”
A brand tells its audience they will be satisfied. Examples: the Gerber baby: it gives you a sense of safety and security. Another quote (from The Brand Bubble By John Gerzema and Ed Lebar):

“Brands are now used more than they are preferred...Functional benefits and relevance now outweigh the intangible and emotional allure of a brand.”

In other words, customers own the brand. For example, equals “safety and security.” We’re not going to see it in a product, but rather on websites. We consume content offline. When we're relaxed and focused it is easier for us to take in information.

When consumers are online, they’re engaged but also distracted by numerous activities. Online, we don't just see or read about brands, we USE them.

So why is our online content generally bad? Why can't we create content that is meaningful and enjoyable?

Ultimately, content matters. According to Jesse James Garrett in his book The Elements of User Experience:

“The single most important thing most web sites can offer to their users is content that those users will find valuable.”

But we marginalize content. Content is often last thing to be considered or delivered when creating websites. This is affirmed by blog entry “The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome” by Pepi Ronalds, appearing on website “A List Apart” <>. is a website designed to help understand careers and opportunities. They provide an ideal of web office structure. Ten years ago there was no content manager as part of the web design team. Neither was there a SEO (search engine optimization) specialist or a usability specialist.

Back then, web teams spoke about general things but not about web content. It used to be that the copywriter was brought in towards the mid or later stages of web site design. But copywriting is based too much on the old model of writer, editor, proof reader, reviser, etc. How did we get there?

Richard Saul Wurman (the founder of the idiom Information Architecture) wrote:

“I thought the explosion of data needed architecture, needed a series of systems, needed systemic design, a series of performance criteria to measure it.”

Influential books: Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information; and Jesse James Garrett, Elements of User Experience. He lays out the problem of content within the user experience.

Content is not a feature. It's messy and complex -- an ever-evolving thing that can turn into a monster. In their book Web Redesign 2.0, Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler say the way to deal with web content is to “accept it, plan for it, charge for it.” Halvorson disagrees.

Halvorson’s idea: you need to have a content strategy - something which plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful usable content.

Content can be: text, data, video, audio. But the major hurdle of all of these is text (including text that you see and that which you don’t see [i.e. metadata]). Strategy is a plan for obtaining a specific goal or result.

Content strategy helps us understand context of content – what, why, how, for whom, by whom, with what, when, where, how often, what next, etc.

A negative example: website of Quicken: designed not for or about the user, but is about selling Quicken. Compare that to: -- a personal finance site. Note the emblazoned banner: “the best (free) way to manage your money.” This website is not about, but about the user. It is a website whose design is based on user's fears and desires. We didn't come to this website to learn about Mint. We came to fix our financial life. Secondary to that is using Mint.

If you fail to consider user goals in seeking your business objectives, you won’t deliver useful content. If you can align user goals with your business objectives you’ll strike the right balance.

Three examples of companies that deliver useful content and do it well:

1. REI (cold weather clothing and gear): They provide a library of articles (texts and videos) that help all levels of visitors. There are 100-200 original articles by staff members (not aggregated from other sources) targeted to specific activities. They've invested in an in-house editorial team.

2. Room & Board : On their website they don’t just tell you about the furniture, but have interview with their artisans. They let you behind the scenes to show you how these artisans have created the furniture. (This helps the user to establish a connection with the products.)

3. Ford Models . Their YouTube channel brings users “backstage” where they have interviews with models and designers. Studio artists and models deliver real-world tips and tricks about makeup, hair, and taking care of oneself. So it brings people not just backstage but delivers useful information to users (and potential models and Ford candidates). They simply asked: “What do girls want?” to determine how they should model their website.


How does content strategy work? There are four parts:

Plan. Create. Deliver. Govern.



  • What do we have?
  • What are we trying to do?
  • What do our content ecosystems look like? (all factors that have impact on living thing of content)
  • What are our opportunities, risks, and success metrics? (SEO) - How are you going to measure success? (fixing content is not a measure of success – you must measure how success is made)

Your content is organized by a content inventory. This inventory only identifies content and a few notes. It is a quantitative audit by which you obtain:

  • measurable project outcomes.
  • content recommendations for your project:
  • What do our content ecosystems look like?
  • What are our opportunities, risks, and success metrics? Consider external and internal factors.
  • The Plan:

Your plan should form a continuous circle of learning / creation / examination, or Create, Deliver, Govern.

This is the mantra of social media: you must be ready to stay engaged. No longer can you create content and then leave it to dry out, age, and spoil.

What do you get? Multiple benefits: better user experience, great brand consistency, new operational efficiencies, better risk management, improved SEO, and more effective personalization and targeting.

How can you start?

Currently we think of content as the responsibility of a writer. But it requires more functions. We need to recognize content as a complex thing and the responsibility of many. Marketing tasks in all their variety are activities which can be considered content. We must have processes in place that recognize the web as an eco system.

In closing Halvorson admonished us:

You are a publisher - treat your content as a critical business asset.

No matter how you get your content onto the web – by email, Twitter, IM, etc. – you are publishing content to the web. Recognize yourself as a publisher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo: Some thoughts

I enjoyed this year's Web 2.0 Expo more than I thought I would. I was concerned that it might be a repetition of last year’s. Fortunately I was wrong. Some of the speakers were the same, but (from what I could see) they offered new views on a variety of issues.

Before I provide summaries of the individuals sessions I attended, I’ll offer some general comments about the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City.

Last year, overhearing talk in between sessions, it seemed that one of the most pressing concerns was how to monetize the Internet and social media, and determining ROI (return on investment). This year, though ROI was still on people’s minds, its concern seemed to be much more muted (based on my sense that there were fewer hard business types present). Rather, I sensed that the geeks who had entered the business world had come to the expo to reinvigorate their love and fascination of computers and the Internet. They came to explore new ideas and keep track of what they could bring back to the office or file away for later use.

The keynotes last year seemed to me rather perfunctory, whereas this year many were a highlight of the event. I first saw Baratunde Thurston portray @the_swine_flu back at IgniteNYC on June 1, 2009. Even then he had the audience howling with laughter. This time he spoke on hashtags in Twitter, but I was amazed at the way he delivered his speech. It wasn’t a speech: it was a dialogue with the audience. As an occasional stand-up comedian (and an editor for The Onion), he knew he had to get the audience right away. He succeeded, making his presentation among the most memorable presentation of the entire Expo. It is a model for all future presentations.

The sleeper for me was Beth Noveck, Deputy Chief Technology Officer For Open Government at the White House. Noveck spent over about 35 minutes in conversation with Tim O’Reilly, discussing the President’s Open Government Initiative. She described a direction for openness in the White House that would foster greater participation (and therefore activism) in political life. One of the first advantages of openness was making sure that no lobbyists would enter those who advise the president – and having the list of official visitors made public was a step to making sure no lobbyists would appear. She also singled out Manor, Texas, a town of 5,800 people, for the superlative efforts they’re doing to create a transparent government on a town level. You could feel the audience breathing “wow!” as she held them in attention, describing what they hope to achieve, including influencing other branches of government to be as open.

Much has already been written about – and by - Danah Boyd, her keynote speech, and the phenomenon of “tweckling” (an amalgam of Twitter and heckling). In brief, saddled with an unexpected and difficult situation for presenting her paper, Boyd was unaware that the Twitter feed being projected behind her began to comment negatively on her presentation, even to becoming derogatory. To be sure, even if the audience was correct in suggesting that she was reading her paper too fast, the nastiness was uncalled for and not constructive.

As ugly as it was, the situation suggested that the typical academic talk – of standing and delivering your totally prepared paper – is now a thing of the past. Today we're at Presentation 2.0: You must establish a relationship with and engage your audience. Do not depend on content alone to do that for you. Of course, attendees were spoiled by Thurston’s presentation – he spent a good five minutes warming us up, getting our attention, and establishing a memorable exchange with us even before he began sharing content. [Side note: When Michael Stephens (instructor at the Graduate School of Library Information Science at Dominican University) addressed staff at the New York Public Library, he began at the back of the auditorium, slowly making his way to the front, while asking short questions and getting answers. He was working the crowd.] This kind of Presentation 2.0 – which is as much performance as presentation – is now going to be necessary when conveying information to an audience, particularly if there are distractions such as slides, or simultaneous Twitter feeds (even if they are not projected, many conferences now have a backchannel, so it's not going to go away).

Despite the many good sessions I attended (summaries of which I hope to post soon), what I felt missing from the Expo were more opportunities for networking. In this day and age where the Internet enables quick and usually free dissemination, there has been much talk questioning the need for traditional conferences, when presenters could simply post their talks online.

Therefore attendance at a conference needs to emphasize the attributes beyond the papers, and that is usually networking. There is a need for more social interaction. There were a few opporunities: lunch time (often less than an hour), and pre-meeting coffee and tea in he lounge area:

Last year (which I sensed had significantly more attendees), one lunch allowed people to group themselves based on interest. I reported on sitting at a table labeled Museum 2.1 and discovering interesting people. It would have been a good idea to have this option available for all lunches. Instead, we were left to seek out others with similar interests on Twitter - not an efficient method of networking when you're with hundreds of people.

I was happy to have suggested and created an archive of tweets for the Expo - many thanks to Twapper Keeper. Even a staff member of O'Reilly thanked me. Access the archive here (Over 12,000 tweets as of the morning of November 25.)