The Content Strategy of Product (Part 1)

It’s official: I have joined the remarkable Arc90 as Lead Strategist, where I am forming its content strategy and information architecture practice. This post reflects upon the role we see for advancing the content strategy project here.

Product is the Future of Content

Everyone’s a critic, as the old saw goes, but the lament counts twice-over in the future-of-media discussion. Stir in digital industry folks you follow on Twitter and, well, stand back.

Tear a proverbial page from my feed any day this week. Many of us became expert in the viability of the NYTimes.com pay fence and its app-bundled offering. Several, myself included, openly clucked over cash-flush Flipboard’s fresh financing round, and pondered the state of aggregated magazine experiences along with Khoi Vinh. Netflix announced a foray into original programming while YouTube coaxes along similar efforts.

The simple takeaway here: content is product.

Meanwhile, in the past week at the Arc90 office, Readability noted The New York Review of Books’ and TweetMag’s partner integration while the team was heads-down down on a raft of promising new service enhancements. A short week earlier, the Donahue live experiment kicked off at SXSW, to say nothing of other product and client ventures afoot.

What do all these events share in common? Each are product announcements; each involve us both as everyday consumers and digital experts alike; and each take content as the core aspect of their experience.

The simple takeaway here: content is product. But I believe there’s a bigger leap sitting in wait.

Product is actually the future of content.

This is where the most pressing problems of content production and monetization will be solved, and where the richest opportunities, to innovate the user experience of content presentation and consumption, will be realized. (Consider an app like Reeder, for example.) This is how digital publishing moves forward.

Why Arc90, Why Now

When I look at it closely, the Predicate project today feels genuinely satisfied and complete.

Content strategy alone can feather your nest, but it won’t fly you the places sound design, development, and product thinking can.

The louder drumbeat about content’s future—what comes after the book, the newspaper, and whole businesses and other industries, all in a digital fast-fade from their native selves?—will assuredly be driven by technology, but decided by product. Pragmatically, how will businesses of all kinds position to keep ahead of the perennial sea change of digital technology and media? My bet is with folks that conceive, design, build, and ship their own products: namely, a shop like Arc90.

A Product Take on Content Strategy

My working definition of content strategy has been to call it product development for content. A little shopworn, yes, but it’s been just the sturdy, succinct turn of phrase non-initiates seem to appreciate.

But what is the bearing of a product sensibility on content?

What is the role of content strategy in organizations where content is their business?

And what’s the value of a content strategy that does not make some sense of the tangible challenges we face as digital consumers and producers?

I have a few ideas of what has mattered most in my practice as a content specialist. More to follow.

In a follow-up post I share more about where I see the intersection of product and content taking the practice of content strategy. For now, let me extend my gratitude and excitement to all the very fine, far-flung folks I call family, friends, and colleagues: here’s to everything sitting on that dazzling horizon for us in 2011.