December 14, 2016
This year at the LavaCon conference in Las Vegas, I followed some very exciting presentations about the very near future role of bots (software robot/intelligent agent) in our efforts to bring exactly the right piece of content to the right person, at the right time.
Current prominent bot examples are Microsoft’s Azure Bot Service and IBM’s Watson Virtual Agent.
Some excellent presentations also talked about the fact that bots need to have access to enormous amounts of rich, structured, modular content that is tagged with metadata. In other words, bots feed on rich structured content and they just cannot get enough of it.
So, if you want to have bots help your users, you had better get started improving your content by making it modular (one question >> one answer << one topic), taggable with rich structured metadata and machine-readable. The more structure and metadata you add to your content, the further away from the wastebasket it gets.
In many companies, the intranet is the wastebasket or the final resting place for content with no structure and no metadata – not even the author can find it again. Adding metadata and structure can transform the content, making it searchable, findable and eventually “bottable.”
Good luck bot-enabling your content!
A few years ago, I gave an interview about structured writing to a Swedish journalist. I talked (probably far too much) about consistency, modularity, content reuse and all the other goodies of structured writing.
She asked me, “But what about the writer? Isn’t it terribly boring, being all modular and consistent?”
My answer was – and still is – the following:
“When I am trying to make my new cable TV box work, manual in hand, desperately looking for the information I need – in that situation, nothing in the entire World concerns me less than how the writer felt when creating this manual!”
And that actually captures my message rather nicely:
- We create business content to help readers or content consumers – human as well as bots – getting their job done
- We do not normally create content just to allow the writers to have fun
- Remember that normally you have a lot more readers than writers, sometimes thousands more
I am not saying that writers having fun is bad, or that the content creation process should be ignored – not at all. We have to make it fun to write good content. We have to make it as painless as possible to review and approve content and we have to dramatically improve our content processes.
But if a writer thinks it is more interesting to write a manual if he can use sophisticated words and sentences, thereby making life miserable for the reader (me, with the cable box manual in my hand), then we are missing the point.
And if internal efficiencies make the resulting content less relevant and less useable for the reader, then we are heading in the wrong direction.
For example, think of the owner’s manual for your new Legend Sublime SUV. If the manufacturer has bundled content for different models, engine sizes, engine types, and interior packages into one manual, the internal efficiencies have been used to suppress what the reader really needs.
So, never lose track of the ultimate reason for all of this work on content: “It’s the readers, stupid!”