Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

content, sharing, and user interfaces

A couple of days ago Russ posted an interesting entry (long, but worth the time) on what he dubbed 'communicontent':

Communicontent to me, is a byproduct of communication where traditional content is magically created. As a corollary, the forms of communication that can best be expressed as content almost naturally become communicontent. See this weblog? This is communicontent. I used to drive my friends on mailing lists crazy by writing all these long, in-depth emails. Now I just write all the same thoughts in my weblog instead. The only difference is that the viewers aren't restricted. I'm still just communicating my personal thoughts. It's communication, but because it's been captured in a fixed state to be found later, it's also content.

This is more than just the famous "user generated content." If I take a picture (content I've generated) it doesn't really matter until I decide I want to send that picture to someone. Then it becomes something different. The act of communicating that piece of content makes it more special. In practical terms, it simply adds more meta-data at the very minimum: a title, a description, a place, etc. But it also gives it an inherent value as well: I think this is important enough to send, therefore you may want to think it's important enough to take time to look at.

In general I agree that content that is communicated becomes a different sort of beast (The Google-Gmail analogy he mentionts at one point is stretching it a bit IMO). There are a couple of things I'd add, particularly what I think adds to the success of this type of shared content.

First, is that content relevance (and quality) matters, a lot. Most content people generate has relevance for themselves and a small group, even when we blog we sometimes (or maybe most of the times :)) we post about things a lot of people simply do not find interesting. Quality has a lot to do with the kind of information you're sharing, and with the kind of device/interface you use to create it. For example, there is no way someone can write a well-thought-out argument on anything using T9 on a, say, Nokia 3650. Why? Because the interface gets in the way. Similarly, you might be able to post high-resolution pictures from your PC, but not from most phones (camera quality... network speed... ability to crop/edit if necessary).

Second, as Russ notes:

In order to create communicontent, pure content needs meta-data, and pure communication needs organization.
Consider this and what I said in the previous paragraph, it brings back my recent thoughts on metadata. That is, the ability to create metadata or organization is worthless if there aren't also good ways of navigating that metadata, and viceversa. Both ends have to be covered. FOAF has, in my view, suffered from this. There's no way for non-geeks to make use of all that metadata, and conversely they don't have easy-as-pie ways to create it, which results in limited appreciation of it by non-geeks.

Putting this two thoughts together, what I'd add to Russ's ideas is that the process (which includes generation and access) by which this shared content is created matters a great deal, as does the follow-up access. Both ends of the equation have to be covered, that is:

  • The content (and if possible its accompanying metadata) has to be extremely easy to create and share
  • Once content is created, the content access interface has to be adequate for its purpose
I think moblogs work because it's easy to take a picture, then (relatively) easy to post them, and then the software on the server does the rest for you (organize them according to time, create a slideshow, etc), which covers both ends--and it's when both of these conditions are met that apps cross the boundary from the cool to the useful.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on November 10 2004 at 3:43 PM

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