if:book's Kate Eltham is currently blogging for if:book from the O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York City.
Brian O'Leary: Context First, A Unified Field Theory of Publishing
As authoring, repository and distribution tools become both much cheaper and more widely distributed, the format-driven organization of content (newspapers, magazines, books etc) is giving way to a new, more granular and perhaps deeply uncomfortable model. The new model presents specific opportunities for publishers, particularly those who can use their expertise to tag content and make it both more discoverable and reusable. It also presents challenges to publishers who cannot let the “container” metaphor go in moving to digital platforms.
Damage done by the "container model of publishing".
Book, mag and newspaper publishing is unduly governed by the containers we've used for centuries to transmit information.
The process of filling the container strips out context (background, annotations, metadata, community, extra-textual relationships). The current workflow hiererchy, container first, is already outdated. We must start with context, preserve its relationship to content.
Make it easy for readers to discover, read and share content across digital platforms.
Contianers limit how we think about our audience, but in stripping context, also limit how readers find our content.
Digital make convergence inevitable.
We already live in a world where we can author, store and distribute digital and phyiscal content in multiple channels simultaneously at the push of a button. The future is here, just not evenly distributed (William Gibson quote)
Publishers aren't the only ones looking at new content market opportunities. There's a new generation of born-digital companies that already in our space.
The challenge isn't just being digital, it's being demonstrably relevant to audience who naturally turn to digital channels for meaning.
By choosing container first, we discard the useful stuff that comprises context: tags, metadata, annotations etc. It is costly and inefficient to reconstruct this after building our containered content first, rather than to consider the applications of this context first.
Publishers have made context the last thing they think about.
When content scarcity was the norm, we could live in limited context. But now, in era of abundance editors have new and different role: figuring out how what is published will be discovered.
Reverse the paradigm. Start with context. Containers should be the output of digital workflows. Only way to compete in a digital-first content-abundant universe.
We need new skill sets to compete, but those aren't the toughest challenges. Changing workflow is.