What Content Is and Is Not

In recent posts, I have defined content as a composition, irrespective of format, that moves or guides its audience to feel or act or that adds to or synthesizes a body of knowledge. Content typically carries with it its own context.

As such, content is mostly distinct from raw data and other digitized information that serve only as single reference points or as machine records. Moreover, content has–and can be reused for–an identifiable purpose or reason for existing.

Content Rules collected some definitions of content in a well-read 2018 blog. It offers a thought-provoking, philosophical discussion. Ultimately, however, content is content whether it appears in a user manual, a knowledge base, a website, or a marketing brochure.

To begin a content transformation, organizations must define for themselves what constitutes content. A useful start is to put some boundaries around the concept of “content” by identifying what content is not.

Content vs Data

For instance, an organization might want to distinguish content from data records. Data records consist of raw data, collected at a single point in time and stored in a file that resides in a file manager or database. Often the data are collected through some kind of data entry, such as an online form.

More and more (thanks to the internet of things [IoT]), machines create records. These kinds of records (machine records) are created, for instance, when digitized information is transmitted between two machines or between an intelligent appliance/instrument and an app.

Some records, for example health records, contain text-based commentary that explicates the data. Most of the time that commentary is intended to complete the record rather than inform or direct a defined audience.

But someone could make the case otherwise, especially when the explication takes the form of generic patient instructions or generic lab-result interpretations. Just watch out for privacy regulations and compliance constraints.

Other Ways to Distinguish Content

You could also distinguish content from points of reference in an outline or website. Titles and website navigation labels, for instance, are signposts. They serve the content, but they are not necessarily content themselves. (Metadata raises a different question altogether.)

Similarly, a single graphical element is not typically considered content. But graphical compositions, whether they contain words or not, could be considered content. That includes photos, videos, infographics, and technical illustrations.

Thinking about infographics can lead to a discussion about whether aggregated data constitutes content. In our era of big data, that discussion is certainly worth having.

Similarly, responses in a chatbot, webinar, Slack conversation, or other live interaction could be collected and vetted as content. For these discussions, I would circle back to my points about composition, audience, context, and purpose.

As these paragraphs show, we will likely have a more difficult time in the future defining what content is and is not. Nevertheless, I am excited to be part of the future of content!

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