When I coined the term “Contentology” 15 years ago, the practice of content strategy was not commonly accepted or even considered. Most people — and by “people” I don’t mean the techies who obsess about user experience and web analytics — I mean the average director of communications or marketing, or the average business owner who wanted to improve their website — most of those people would say “Oh, you mean web strategy” if you suggested conducting a content strategy. People couldn’t understand why you would want to separate strategy for content from strategy for the web because in 2000 the Internet was all about websites, even though “Content is king” was a popular meme.
I started off as a journalist and print publisher, then a web researcher and developer, then a web manager for a national financial services company. Up to 2000, I also wrote a weekly newspaper column called Internet Today, which is a little amusing when you think about the title and the scope of the column: it suggested I was covering the Internet…the whole Internet. It was a time when people liked to read newspaper and magazine articles that told you which websites to visit. Around that era, however, I was also discovering “web logging”, or blogging as it was becoming known, and it was becoming clear to me that with the rise of high speed Internet, lightning-fast Google searches, the research into web communities, and the ability to send text and email messages on wireless devices, content delivery was becoming more dynamic, and static websites were beginning to be seen in the Internet’s rear view mirror.
When I registered Contentology.com in 2001, I had to explain what that new term meant. It was a neologism that meant “the science of content,” the idea that content and content strategy should be a discipline of its own, encompassing other content-related fields such as marketing, information, design, usability and information architecture. This is essentially what I submitted to sites such as NetLingo so it could become part of our lexicon. Content, I wrote in my blog, was not just about words and the writing/editing of words — it was what we use to communicate to people online: graphics, photos, audio, video (YouTube was still three years away). When you change content from words to images, or from images to video, for example, you change not only the method of delivery but the very nature of that content as well. And it was not just the content we see in the main body of the page — it was also the hyperlinks people were sharing, the machine-readable metatags the search engines were parsing, the dynamic data that web applications were generating, and the active conversations that were happening across and between web domains.
The gated communities of Friendster and MySpace that came later seemed, at first, little more than stylized chatrooms with benefits, but social networks further extrapolated the idea of content — especially user-generated content — as this dynamic and organic force of human nature that could make something “go viral.” After I started blogging about content and content strategy I had many opportunities to work on web projects for business and government where I could test and apply what I had been learning. In 2005 I became a certified usability analyst through Human Factors International, but the idea of content strategy was still relegated to a very academic view of the web, while usability was seen as the more practical and scientific approach to developing websites and web content.
Then in 2005, YouTube was introduced to a world that now had better access to watch streaming media via broadband Internet. And in early 2006, Twitter was launched, followed by the wide release of Facebook, which was finally opened up to everyone in the world after being limited to campuses since 2004. Content poured into and from these virtual “gated communities”, and even though everyone underestimated the impact of social media on the world, suddenly the idea of content strategy started to come into focus for the first time.
(Next in Part 2: The Practice of Contentology and Content Strategy)