Aug 102015


Every time a digital product manger says the word ‘content’, it makes me cringe. Sometimes, it’s appropriate, but mostly it’s a careless shorthand way of commodifying everything, with or without meaning.

When I was younger content referred to the actual meaning of what you were painting, reading, making a film of, or whatever. I got told off by a teacher for reading X-Men and Childhood’s End rather than The Scarlet Letter. (I did, actually, read TSL. It was good, just not what I always wanted to read). She, of course, hadn’t read either, but comics were all story, devoid of any real content.

Fast forward a decade or so and there’s this… Internet thing. I think the first time I heard the word “content” was about 1998, when the company I was working for brought in a specialist to help us strategise what the website was going to be, outside of the main functionality. Did we want people reading articles (there were no blogs), or to come away with something besides an efficient dispute resolution process? The content of the website was what mattered.

It still made sense, then.

Everything on the Internet is described as content now. Words. Pictures. Videos. Flash mobs. Happenings. Content has turned into a catch-all phrase, a commodity. It’s a convenient shorthand, and there are people for whom it works, but it puts in the same bucket The Onion, The Atlantic,

And here’s the thing: a commodity by definition isn’t unique, it’s interchangeable. If you’re buying pork belly futures or soybean oil it doesn’t matter if you get those things from east or west. You get the oil, the grain, sand, whatever, and it does the job, however it works.

But what we’re calling content is – usually – different. The written word is a precious thing. If I go to The Atlantic to read Ta-Nahesi Coates I don’t want to read words written by Boris Johnston. It’s not a commodity, but we treat it as though it is.

I would suggest that if you want better content for your website (or, you know, whatever web-enabled 2.0 property) that the first order of business is to stop referring to it as such. Call it writing, or films, or articles, or whatever. Writers write words. They don’t create content. Good writing is unlikely to have an expiry date. Unlike, hopfully, this post.

May 202010

Stop what you’re doing right now
and to to and install the extension. What? You’re not using Chrome or Firefox?

What the heck is it?
It’s an extension to Chrome and/or Firefox that replaces the sidebar where the google ads turn up with information about the sender– specifically, their blog, twitter, linkedin, etc. You can also extend the extensions with what they call “raplets”– plugins that add functionality to, currently, Crunchbase (useful for tech-geek entrepreneurs), a couple of CRM systems, a booking system, and more.

Why do I want it?
How else are you going to keep track of all those people? Ever get a speculative email from someone that looks good but maybe is spam? You can find out loads of information by looking at someone’s twit-stream, linkedin, etc. right off the bat. It’s super useful. And handy. And fills in the blanks that you get when someone emails you and says “we met at the X conference…” and you can’t remember who they are.

And, it allows you to take (private) notes on them. And they have a dead-simple privacy policy (they essentially respect it and don’t share anything, ever). And it uses OpenAuth, which means that they never see your gmail password, so no hackety hackness.

It only works with gmail.

Enjoy your new productivity

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