ALA 274: The emerging content strategist

In Issue No. 274 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: a website without a content strategy is like a speeding vehicle without a driver. Learn why content matters and how to do it right.

Content-tious Strategy

by JEFFREY MACINTYRE

Every website faces two key questions: 1. What content do we have at hand? 2. What content should we produce? Answering those questions is the domain of the content strategist. Alas, real content strategy gets as little respect today as information architecture did in 1995. MacIntyre defines the roles, tools, and value of this emerging user experience specialist.

The Discipline of Content Strategy

by KRISTINA HALVORSON

It’s time to stop pretending content is somebody else’s problem. If content strategy is all that stands between us and the next fix-it-later copy draft or beautifully polished but meaningless site launch, it’s time to take up the torch—time to make content matter. Halvorson tells how to understand, learn, practice, and plan for content strategy.

And, in EDITOR’S CHOICE, from July 31, 2007:

Better Writing Through Design

by BRONWYN JONES

How is it that the very foundation of the web, written text, has taken a strategic back seat to design? Bronwyn Jones argues that great web design is not possible without the design of words.

[tags]contentstrategy, content, strategy, content strategy, web, webcontent, webdesign, userexperience, writing, editorial, Kristina Halvorson, Jeffrey Macintyre, Bronwyn Jones, alistapart[/tags]

A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

ALA 259: Career and Content

In Issue No. 259 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome

by Pepi Ronalds

Clients love to write copy. Well, they love to plan to write it, anyhow. On most web design projects, content is the last thing to be considered (and almost always the last thing to be delivered). We’ll spend hours, weeks, even months, doing user scenarios, site maps, wireframes, designs, schemas, and specifications—but content? It’s a disrespected line item in a schedule: “final content delivered.” Pepi Ronalds proposes a solution to this constant cause of project delays.

Why Did You Hire Me?

by Keith LaFerriere

Landing a new job or client is difficult in this economic climate. Undelivered contractual promises and work environment shortcomings can transform that challenge into a long-term nightmare. Keith LaFerriere shows how to get paid what you’re worth; how to fight for control of your projects using management tools corporate cultures respect (even if they don’t understand your work); and how to tell when it’s time to jump ship.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, tips, content, writing, editors, editorial, control, career, client services[/tags]

The vanishing personal site

OUR PERSONAL SITES, once our primary points of online presence, are becoming sock drawers for displaced first-person content. We are witnessing the disappearance of the all-in-one, carefully designed personal site containing professional information, links, and brief bursts of frequently updated content to which others respond via comments. Did I say we are witnessing the traditional personal site’s disappearance? That is inaccurate. We are the ones making our own sites disappear.

The vanishing personal site.

Obliterating our own readership and page views may not be a bad thing, but let’s be sure we are making conscious choices.

Interactive art director Jody Ferry’s site is a perfect example of the deeply decentralized personal page. I use the term “page” advisedly, as Jody’s site consists of a single page. It’s a fun, punchy page, bursting with personality, as intriguing for what it hides as what it reveals. Its clarity, simplicity, and liquidity demonstrate that Jody Ferry does indeed practice what the site’s title element claims: Interactive Art Direction and User Experience Design. All very good.

It could almost be the freshened-up splash page of a late 1990s personal site, except that the navigation, instead of pointing inward to a contact page, resume, blog, link list, and photos, points outward to external web services containing those same things. Mentally insert interactive diagram here: at left is a 1990s site whose splash page links to sub-pages. Structurally, its site map is indistinguishable from an org chart, with the CEO at the top, and everyone else below. At right, to re-use the org chart analogy, a site like Jody’s is akin to a single-owner company with only virtual (freelance) employees. There is nothing below the CEO. All arrows point outward.

Most personal sites are not yet as radically personal-content-outsourced as Jody’s, and certainly not every personal site will go this way. (Jody’s site might not even be this way tomorrow, and, lest it be misunderstood, I think Jody’s site is great.) But many personal sites are leaning this way. Many so inclined are currently in an interim state not unlike what’s going on here at zeldman.com:

  • There are blog posts here, but I post Tweets far more frequently than I write posts. (For obvious reasons: when you’re stuck in an airport, it’s easier to send a 140-character post via mobile phone and Twitter than it is to write an essay from that same airport. Or really from anywhere. Writing is hard, like design.) To connect the dots, I insert my latest Tweet in my sidebar. I have more readers here than followers at Twitter, but that could change. Are they the same readers? Increasingly, to the best of my knowledge, there are people who follow me on Twitter but do not read zeldman.com (and vice-versa). This is good (I’m getting new readers) and arguably maybe not so good (my site, no longer the core of my brand, is becoming just another piece of it).
  • Like nearly everyone, I outsource discoverable, commentable photography to Flickr.com instead of designing my own photo gallery like my gifted colleagues Douglas Bowman and Todd Dominey. Many bloggers now embed mini-bits of their Flickr feeds in their site’s sidebars. I may get around to that. (One reason I haven’t rushed to do it is that most of my Flickr photos are hidden behind a “friends and family” gateway, as I mainly take pictures of our kid.) Photography was never what this site was about, so for me, using Flickr is not the same as outsourcing the publication of some of my content.
  • As I’ve recently mentioned, links, once a primary source of content (and page views) here, got offloaded to Ma.gnolia a while back. From 1995 until a few years ago, every time I found a good link, an angel got his wings and I got page views. My page views weren’t, brace yourself for an ugly word, monetized, so all I got out of them was a warm feeling—and that was enough. Now my site is, brace yourself again, monetized, but I send my readers to Ma.gnolia every time I find a link. Go figure.

I’m not trying to get rid of my readers, nor are you trying to shake off yours. In the short term, including Flickr, Twitter, and Ma.gnolia or De.licio.us feeds sends traffic both ways—out to those services, but also back to your site. (Remember when some of us were afraid RSS would cost us our readers? It did and it didn’t. With RSS, good writers gain readers while often losing traditional page views. But that’s another story.) I’ve certainly found new websites by going to the Twitter profile pages of people who write funny or poignant Tweets. Behind a great Flickr photo may be a great designer whose site you might not have found if not for first seeing that photo.

Site of André Gonçalves

But outsourcing the publication of our own content has long-term implications that point to more traffic for the web services we rely on, and less traffic and fewer readers for ourselves.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Not every person who designs websites needs to run a personal magazine on top of all their other responsibilities. If your goal in creating a personal site way back when was to establish an online presence, meet other people who create websites, have fun chatting with virtual friends, and maybe get a better job, well, you don’t need a deep personal site to achieve those goals any more.

But if world domination is your goal, think twice before offloading every scrap of you.


Translations

[tags]personal sites, blogs, blogging, de.licio.us, ma.gnolia, flickr, twitter, jodyferry, outsourcing, content, readers, readership[/tags]