Regarding Content

As thoughtful, verbal beings, we've always focused on the history of our own oral and literary state - how story-telling, language, the written and spoken word have come along. This is true not just in the ivory towers where these histories are studied, but also within popular culture. We ponder how we got here.

This past weekend, I did something I do from time to time. I pulled random books from my grad school days off my shelves and browsed the highlighted, marked passages and notes in the margins. The books I snatched this time were titles like, "Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World" and "The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind." I know, I know, you are wondering what I studied and why -- but that's another story for another time.

The point is, the passages and notations about "computer literacy," how the brain processes the written word, how stories travel through cultures, all looked like little breadcrumbs on the page, sprinkling their way to today. Now, there are so many more layers to how we think about language, communication, content, and specifically - content production and consumption. Our consideration is much more commercially oriented when we dig into these matters today. "Production" and "consumption" are integral to every single conversation on content.



Like many of us, I've been steadily watching our path to global content distribution. In this mindset, I have been thinking a lot lately about how we got to this increasingly complicated relationship we have with content. For me, the sequence goes something like this....

The Blogosphere Gets Legs

We all remember raising an early eyebrow at the blogger of yesteryear, the renegade taking a crack at content for anyone who would read. These bloggers would soon have a new, more legitimate context. Gradually, as it populated, organized and grew infrastructure, the blogosphere would begin to live and breathe. And, it could be monetized. Through popular adoption, and more and more businesses harnessing its power, it matured and certified. Its firmer establishment forced us to consider the real difference between journalism and vehicle; the value of original reporting; and what creds really count outside the walls of sanctioned news and publishing organizations. Some would say for better, and some for worse, but nonetheless, digital expansion diversified our sources for content, news, and entertainment. And the blogosphere growing up has been a big part of that.

Developing a Palate for User-Generated Content

As consumers and media business people, we've had to come to terms with user-generated content: what it means to brands; how it can spawn bigger content plays; its place in marketing and the food chain. And while we've been exploring our own personal and professional regard for UGC, the technology, social networking and distribution mechanisms that make its spread possible have all advanced. UGC at its core is the precursor to the even more serious market development of consumer-led content production that we are now seeing in such force.

The Royal You as Producer

Yes, we are beginning to see a huge transformation of how entertainment and video content gets produced and by whom. And also - how it gets distributed. I confess, I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether I honestly will become an active consumer of these independently produced video snacks and webisodes now gaining such popularity. Still, I am nothing if not an utterly avid media consumer, and I use multiple platforms to enjoy this habit. Thus, I do favor this removal of market barriers that we are seeing - so that production, regardless of network affiliation, may prosper, and distribution goes more and more global.

Cross-channel Sensibility

At this point, this one is obvious to us all. If your juiciest news day just happens to overlap with one of your more active entertainment consumption days, look at yourself: feeds blazing, Tweighborhood chattering, a few screens going, paper spread on the floor, DVR whirring. It's not linear; it's often all at once. AADD implications aside, it's clear that our sensibility is cross-channel, some days more than others. We don't even give it a second thought. It can be exhausting but also enthralling.

With all of the above activity, our relationship to content is no longer as simple as our brain relating to the written word, or the way we transport story-telling in our cultures -- or even whether video is killing radio and Internet is killing print. The addition and gradual strengthening of channels - and the introduction of more pronounced commercial elements to our daily reality as consumers -- have made us constantly co-mingle reading, consumption, entertainment, edification, socialization and marketing. This is a lot to process. At its worst, it has been very noisy. At its best, it becomes symphonic. But one thing is certain: our regard for content will never be simple again.

2 comments about "Regarding Content".
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  1. Taulbee Jackson, August 31, 2009 at 11:16 a.m.

    Great article, I love the quote at the end . . . it is symphonic, when it's done well. I also think it can be simple as well, or at least simpler than a lot of us make it. It just requires looking at the problem from a different perspective than we have in the past - staying focused on content, moderation, and human engagement.

    A lot of the issues you outline here are things that drove the development of our company ( It is a pretty simple approach - staff and structure to deal with content specifically, and let digital platforms evolve around the content.

  2. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., August 31, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.

    This is life as perceived and lived by dogs, isn't it? A million overlapping channels of smell, taste and sound, telling stories about food and territory (consumption), competition and pack hierarchy (socialization), sex (entertainment, edification, marketing), etc.

    Ironic that humans seems to evolved our huge brains at the expense of our massive animal sensoria, because ability to conceptualize around, make and throw a spear, and later teach those skills, with generational optimizations, to our young turned out to confer about a zillion times as much survival and reproductive advantage as being able to close our eyes and smell the symphony of prey species moving through the landscape (a nonetheless important job that we quickly and successfully outsourced to dogs).

    Eventually, our huge brains developed a host of artificial technologies to connect us to what was simultaneously becoming an increasingly human-centric universe, and now we're busily plugging these strands into our brains and trying to make sense of what's no more or less than "the cacaphony of us."

    In the process, we're having 'flow' experiences, and sometimes liking it. As a jazz musician, surfer, sailor, martial artist, videogame player, I certainly understand the satisfactions of processing lots and lots of inputs simultaneously and improvising a solution from within a state of 'flow.' But if history is any guide, I suspect this is just a temporary waypoint in the cycle, and that we'll shortly (in terms of evolutionary time) be outsourcing the processing of this data to our pets, so we can get back to the fundamental human business of making spears and writing symphonies.

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