The mobile future of content

There has been a steady stream of upbeat, expansive reports on the future of mobile marketing and advertising (most of which—if you track these sorts of predictions—tend to wildly overshoot their mark), coupled with prognostications that the internet as we know it is about to be subsumed by the mobile internet, which is being treated as a completely separate entity. Whether or not you agree with this (I don’t), it does imply a significant and fundamental shift in how content is created and managed.

The numbers for mobile access to the internet are huge; even the most conservative estimates put the number of users in the billions, which means a vast number of consumers are and will continue to look for content that needs to be packaged and delivered in bite-sized chunks. Most content that is consumed on-line is not consumed in its entirety; people are generally looking for specific data points (I may only need a paragraph of information that is embedded in an 800 page document), which means that content management standards such as DITA have been well ahead of the consumption curve for some time. Other technologies such as SMS were created with a haiku delivery format to begin with (a 140 character limitation forces pithiness), which has clearly resonated with the younger end of the consumer market (hence the success of Twitter, which is basically an SMS overlay).

DITA has always been about minimalism and brevity, as has Twitter. The interesting aspect of this is that DITA applied to complex content management has worked extremely well. The question becomes, what happens when the 140 character-set world intersects with the structured content (DITA) world? Complex content has always run in parallel to SMS/Twitter, but that also assumed two separate networks, one network for content heavy access from a fixed point device, the other network focused on mobile access where information is tightly parameterized. With the increasing prevalence of smart devices that whole model is being flipped, and at this point most content being run across Twitter and other SMS based networks does not have any standard for referential integrity the way DITA-ized content does. While this may sound wonky, it’s worth considering that many media companies and consumer-facing companies are becoming increasingly focused on Twitter as a content delivery mechanism without the benefit of content management standards. Or, in other words, the mobile internet runs the risk of becoming an information morass, similar to the way the internet looked in the mid and late 90s.

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