"Put it on the web"

>"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" -George Bernard Shaw

The illusion is all around us.

Communicating with a group of people of any size is *really* hard. We've come a long way from smoke signals and messengers on horseback, but there are a whole lot of people out there and almost as many different ways to reach them.

It's frighteningly easy to make the assumption that your target audience 'knows' something just because you updated a page, sent an email, or tweeted.

Large institutions and companies are especially guilty of this because they have so many 'stakeholders' - [the one and only time](https://twitter.com/acoyne/status/73751191145807873) I'll use that word - and so many different departments with messages to relate. How often is "put it on the web" said with a sense of finality? The job's not done. It hasn't even started.

The web has somewhere in the neighbourhood of [15 billion pages](http://www.worldwidewebsize.com/index.php?lang=EN). Toss in the social media stream, email and whatever else you can find and it adds up to a mind-bending amount of information. Updating one paragraph on a page that is five clicks deep is not communication. It's a small update on a page that accounts for 0.04% of the total site traffic. Few people will ever stumble across it or look at it again. More effort is needed.

This problem exists because everyone (myself included) forgets that **content *is* the user experience**. Developers, designers and CSS nerds: hold your fire for a moment. Forget about the site design, jquery, CSS or the font. For a moment, ignore the architecture, menus or search. All these things come after content. Actually, all those things exist to *get* the visitor to the content. So yes, they need to be great but...

How often has a website been re-designed and the content just "migrated" from the old site? So much effort is put into all the pieces around the outside of the page. The navigation, header, footer;areas of a site that your brain processes and then ignores while reading. Little or nothing gets changed or improved where the users eyes are going to spend most of their time. On the content.

Without clear, direct and strategic content, the user's experience is crap. Of course you need a clear architecture, great design, easy usability and killer typography, but content should be number one.

Content is hard because it needs more than a small team of people, it requires *everybody*. A single person can make a website look amazing because they're in direct control. Good content requires an entire organization to line up and talk to each other before they can talk to customers. Communication requires a coordinated effort. An effective advertising campaign doesn't rely on a single channel, neither should communication.

Too often, web workflows consist of a department contacting the person responsible for performing updates and requesting a change. There is no one empowered to look objectively at the update and judge its value to the customer or user. Is it relevant, timely and useful? Does it serve an internal business need or does it serve the customer?

These decisions sound an awful lot like what an editor does. Isn't that weird?

What a novel concept, having an editor for a corporate website[^1]. Every source of information worth paying attention to is edited or curated in some fashion. There needs to be someone responsible for saying "yes" or "no" to every substantial update, tweet, email or post.

Blogging is a great example of putting content first. The best blogs, the ones that flourish, have a laser focus on quality content. Look at [Daring Fireball](http://daringfireball.net/), [The Brooks Review](http://brooksreview.net/), [Shawn Blanc](http://shawnblanc.net/) and thousands of others[^2]. They have an ultra-simple design. They aren't flashy. Their authors [agonize](http://shawnblanc.net/2011/05/writing-a-weblog-full-time/) over every single word that appears. Regular readers don't even consciously see the site design when they visit, only the words. Only the information.

Not everyone in an organization should be creating content. Few are actually any good at it. Writing is *hard*. Remember how hard communication is? Newsflash, writing is communication. Freelance writers know how low content usually ranks. They are often the last people to be brought into a project and are expected to be the first to finish. Content plays second fiddle to sexier things like design, information systems or new platforms. Additionally, web content is often written to satisfy a faceless mob of readers. In *[On Writing](http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Stephen-King/dp/0743455967)*, Stephen King talks about how he writes for his "ideal reader" (who happens to be his wife). The same principle should apply to web content. Write for your "ideal user" and everyone else will fall in line. Trying to write for a mob results in watered down, uninteresting content that doesn't help anyone.

Things are changing. A [community has developed](http://groups.google.com/group/contentstrategy) and is [growing](http://5by5.tv/contenttalks) around content strategy. I'm just about finished reading *[Content Strategy for the Web](http://www.amazon.com/Content-Strategy-Web-Kristina-Halvorson/dp/0321620062/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1306374063&sr=8-3)* by [Kristina Halvorson](http://twitter.com/halvorson) and there is a list of [other books](http://www.abookapart.com/products/the-elements-of-content-strategy) that I can't wait to get to.

Content applies to everything we do when communicating, whether it's on a website, through Twitter or through email campaigns. Effective content is king. Stay tuned as I dig deeper and explore the importance of content. I will have a lot more to "put on the web".


[^1]: It's certainly not novel. There are sites out there with editors, just not enough of them.
[^2]: Sorry for the tech focus with the examples. These are sites that I visit multiple times per day for one reason: content.