2010 in articles and blog entries

As we prepare to bid farewell to the decade’s cautious first attempt at defining itself I thought I’d repeat what I did 12 months previous and present an assortment of my favourite articles and blog entries of the past year; each just as fresh as the day they were published. Enjoy.

In Defense of Lorem Ipsum

Karen McGrane, karenmcgrane.com, January

“Lorem Ipsum doesn’t exist because people think the content is meaningless window dressing, only there to be decorated by designers who can’t be bothered to read. Lorem Ipsum exists because words are powerful. If you fill up your page with draft copy about your client’s business, they will read it. They will comment on it. They will be inexorably drawn to it. Presented the wrong way, draft copy can send your design review off the rails.”

This was exactly what was needed to blow away that lingering new year haze. Karen took a wrecking ball to the increasingly established perception that anyone caught using adapted passages from Cicero’s treatise on the theory of ethics on website mock-ups or wireframes should automatically be subjected to unbridled howls of derision from the rest of the project team.

The month of October also saw a curious, but welcome, translation into Belorussian. Still no word yet on a Greek version (sorry).

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Charlie Brooker, guardian.co.uk, February

“In this age of rampant identity theft, where it’s just a matter of time before someone works out a way to steal your reflection in the mirror and use it to commit serial bigamy in an alternate dimension, we’re told only a maniac would use the same password for everything. But passwords used to be for speakeasy owners or spies. Once upon a time, you weren’t the sort of person who had to commit hundreds of passwords to memory. Now you are. Part of your identity’s been stolen anyway.”

I’ve long since lost count of the number of times this year alone I’ve had to grudgingly admit to forgetting passwords for web-based tools I frequent such as Dropbox, Goplan and Remember the Milk. But when, at the point of registration, we’re openly challenged to reach their high score of ‘strong’ by adding a random string of numbers, letters, and symbols on the end of our otherwise perfectly memorable password it’s hardly surprising we reach for the “Forgotten your password?” link. Charlie captures this virtual jousting effortlessly in his own inimitable style.

From the hallowed pages of the (now sadly folded) computer games magazine PC Zone to the Guardian’s resident angry man, I’ve grown up enjoying Charlie’s razor-sharp observations. Some people need a stiff coffee on a Monday morning, all I need is Brooker’s column.

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Peter Miller, Tetherd Cow Ahead, February

“Consider this: You can play Chopin and Schubert, Brahms and Bach, Greensleeves and Blow the Man Down for absolutely nothing. You can record that music, and sell the recording to your friends. You can perform it in front of thousands and charge them $90 apiece for the privilege of hearing you play it. Does any of that seem like a bad thing? Not at all, in my opinion. And yet, aside from playing it for your own personal use on your theremin, you cannot do any of that with the latest song from Lady Gaga!!! How absurd is that? In a fundamental way, we’ve decided that Lady Gaga is more valuable than Beethoven. We have made music an expensive and gaudy fashion item, and it is time that we restored it to its true value.”

Early February saw the culmination of a mighty legal clash between two of Australia’s most recognisable musical exports. It was ruled that, for a small portion of the song, Men At Work’s worldwide hit “Down Under” had used the same “note sequence” as the popular (well, I had to sing it) children’s song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”. This immediately gave the estate belonging to the Kookaburra song’s late composer a sizeable share of “Down Under”‘s past and future royalties. Such a curious ruling (because even some trained ears couldn’t hear what the fuss was all about) naturally provoked debate over the way we value the creative arts. I don’t happen to agree with every point Peter makes but this a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking read—just promise me you’ll sit comfortably first.

News flash: Social media won’t fix your content problems

Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic Blog, March

“The relevancy of our corporate websites is not dependent whatsoever on which social media widgets have been deployed throughout the site. Its relevancy is driven by our site content, no matter who is creating it. And that content requires as much, if not more, strategic planning and consistent oversight as do our social media initiatives.”

Now and again Kristina dons her boxing mittens for the good of all humankind on the web. Back in March we saw a particularly impassioned response to a popular, but ultimately flawed article on social media intergration by Altimer Group Partner Jeremiah Owyang. His stance that “static corporate sites” laced with “hyperbole, artificial branding, and pro-corporate content” can have new live breathed into them with “products that allow thriving communities of buyers and prospects to connect” seemed to suggest that applying lipstick to a pig makes all the difference in a dimly lit room. Rarely do words on a screen exude this level of raw passion.

This Is Content

Erin Kissane, Incisive.nu, May

“Here’s the thing. Most people who do content work have had a difficult time selling it, even to clients who desperately need it. We are just beginning to get mainstream companies and organizations to care about ‘Content Strategy’ thing. This is not the time to go on a vision quest in search of a perfect, non-buzzwordy neologism to describe what we do.”

For some reason we humans can’t resist the urge to pluck a low hanging fruit from one of life’s trees and play a crude game of “catch” amongst ourselves for pure pleasure. Sure, all that running about seems healthy at first but soon enough that once firm fruit will resemble a gooey mess; it’s as if we’re waiting for someone to catch it while it’s still edible and tell us off for being so bloody stupid.

In May the web content community decided to pick such a fruit by debating the use of the word “content” as the all-encompassing buzzword that helps describe our skills and output. On occasions such as these I like to hang around long enough for Erin to have her say and then we all toddle off home for tea.

Letter to a Content Strategist

Dan Brown, Greenonions.com, June

“Content strategists are designers, just like I am. And like me, the information architect, the ‘stuff’ content strategists design is somewhat more abstract, somewhat less defined than a couple million pixels. But, aside from the composition of content, content strategists haven’t (to my satisfaction anyway) defined what it is they design, what’s the output of their work.”

Dan Brown, a prominent user experience designer and exponent in the science of information architecture, thought aloud in the form of a blog entry in a bid to help himself, and others in a similar position, clarify the project role and skillset of the content strategist. To do this he outlined what he needed from a content strategist to help him do his job better and, in return, told them what they can expect from him. Both camps ended up learning a great deal about one another, sparking scenes of wild celebration across the land (unconfirmed).

Real Editors Ship

Paul Ford, Ftrain.com, July

“I get very sadpanda when I see someone spend $500K plus deployment, development, and licensing costs on a Java EE-based multilingual platform incorporating a JSR-238 repository with a custom workflow/process approval engine. Because they could build out something for about 20 percent of that (or sometimes 1/2 a percent of that), and hire a few editors to wrangle the content. The content, were it approached strategically, could be of far higher quality—better SEO, more durable, consistent voice, vetted for legal compliance, primed for re-use.”

When Paul Ford blogs momentous things happen: Comet Tuttle chalks up another perihelion approach, a common hen is seen sporting a complete set of choppers, and shoulder-padded newsreaders return to our screens to frighten small children once more. As far as I’m concerned Paul could blog about anything and I’d read it with the same level of attention and intrigue; including such stuffy subjects as hairline fractures in suspension bridges and peculiar cloud formations. Thankfully on this occasion he stuck to a subject of greater interest to me: the role of the editor.

Content & Curation: An Epic Poem

Erin Kissane, Incisive.nu, July

“To people who aren’t already neck-deep in things like enterprise content strategy and document management, digital curation may seem intimidatingly technical or unwieldy. But until we routinely leave our clients and projects with a solid understanding of long-term publishing and content management costs, needs, and processes, we’re glossing over a really important part of content strategy.”

If I disappeared into the woods for a few days clutching a MacBook Pro all I could hope to acheive would be a collection of twigs in my hair and a few encrusted pieces of deer dung lodged in the USB ports, but when Erin Kissane does the same she manages to compose a five-part series on content curation.

I guarantee you’ll look, feel, and smell smarter having read this.

Content Lifecycle: Closing the loop in content strategy

Rahel Bailie, Johnny Holland Magazine, October

“Recognizing a content lifecycle means recognizing that the business of creating and publishing content follows a recognizable, predictable, repeatable process. While the sub-processes may be subject to variations between content genres, as well as situation-specific variations, the overall process is consistent and stable. The content lifecycle describes an organic system, and is system-agnostic.”

This for me was the stand-out article from Johnny Holland’s week-long content strategy binge because it forced me to re-think my own interpretation of the content lifecycle to such an extent that I decided to visualise it later in the year. As a compliment to this article I’d also like to give a polite nod in the direction of Rahel’s five myths about the content lifecycle on her company blog.

The Chokehold of Calendars

Mike Monteiro, Mule Design Blog, November

“The problem with calendars is that they are additive rather than subtractive. They approach your time as something to add to rather than subtract from. Adding a meeting is innocuous. You’re acting on a calendar. A calendar isn’t a person. It isn’t even a thing. It’s an abstraction. But subtracting an hour from the life of another human being isn’t to be taken lightly. It’s almost violent. It’s certainly invasive. Shared calendars are vessels you fill by taking things away from other people.”

Ah, the curse of the open-access personal calendar; hijacked by people intent on sucking away the most creatively potent hours of your day with needless invites to round-table focus groups for bad coffee and stale biscuits. Mike instructs us to start saying no and instead suggests scheduling goals, with time for meetings only factored in when they are suitable for everyone involved and necessary for its progression and completion.

Some honourable mentions