I’ll never forget the first time – some 25 years ago – I used a computer to balance my bank account. I had been happily using the paper registers that came with my checkbooks, and that method was working fine for me. I had no sense of missing out. I used my PC clone (we still called them clones) mostly as a fancy typewriter, and doing that seemed miraculous. Then my dad upgraded his Quicken software and gave me the floppies for his old version. What I’ll never forget is the thrill I felt when I clicked a column heading in my new electronic register, and all my checkbook entries jumped into a new sort order. In an instant, I could make the data line up – reconfigure itself – by payment amount, deposit amount, date, or payee name.
That memorable click gave me my first taste of the kind of reconfiguring that only computers can do. (I’m still waiting for QuickBooks to catch up with Quicken and offer this capability.) Eventually, I would learn that this powerful concept – reconfiguration – applies not only to data but also to all kinds of content in all kinds of ways that benefit businesses as well as customers.
Why this article?
This is one of six articles discussing Ann Rockley’s definition of intelligent content:*
This article focuses on the definition’s fifth element: reconfigurability.
What does ‘reconfigurable’ mean?
“Reusable content is modular,” Ann says. Modular content stands alone. Modularity makes it easy for organizations “to rapidly reconfigure their content to meet changing needs.” As products and customer requirements change, organizations can rapidly reconfigure their content – “add new modules, exclude modules, and rearrange modules to build new information products to meet new needs.”
For example, you might configure content alphabetically in one information product (a conference Speaker page, for example) and chronologically in another (a conference Agenda page, as shown here).
Well-structured, appropriately tagged content can be assembled – configured and reconfigured – in various ways. On the Intelligent Content Conference Agenda page, shown here, elements configured elsewhere in alphabetical order by speaker name are configured here in chronological order by session date and time. This kind of reconfigurability meets a need; an attendee might want to see this information configured one way now and another way later.
One way to reconfigure content dynamically is to filter out what you don’t want to see. For example, on the Intelligent Content Conference Agenda page, shown above, two tabs – “Filter by track” and “Filter by days” – enable site visitors to view one track at a time (all dates) or one date at a time (all tracks).
Content can be reconfigured in many ways. Let’s imagine a preposterous example. Say that you learned that some people in your database of conference-goers have a crazy preference for black shirts. If you assign a “blackshirt” metatag to the photos of all speakers wearing black shirts, you can then easily target an email to that group of people. “Love black shirts? Have we got a conference for you!” Here’s the point: You can structure and tag content – and then configure and reconfigure it automatically – in an infinite number of ways.
Let’s say you want to configure your content according to role (software developers, say, vs. system administrators) or according to phases of the customer journey (customers vs. prospects, say). You would add or exclude modules to give each group only what it needs or wants to know.
Modular content that can be automatically reconfigured enables you to give people only the information they need, the way they need it, when they need it. You might not hear them, but when you deliver content in this way, customers and prospective customers say, “Whoa.”
Or not. The more sobering possibility is that they don’t even notice. They simply expect your content to reconfigure itself or to enable them to do the reconfiguring. People who have experienced reconfigurability – and by now, who hasn’t? – expect reconfigurability; any other experience leaves them feeling frustrated or shortchanged. (QuickBooks, are you listening?)
How does your team set up your organization’s content to be reconfigured? How does reconfigurability support your organization’s goals? What possibilities would you like to experiment with to make your content even more reconfigurable in the future?
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This article draws from conversations with Ann Rockley and from her book, co-authored with Charles Cooper, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: New Riders, 2012). At Ann’s request, I have changed the original phrase unified content to intelligent content.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute