I recently read a post about cross-platform publishing that absolutely blew my mind and changed my paradigm about how I am thinking about content and publishing moving forward. It’s called Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content, written by Karen McGrane who has led content strategy and information architecture engagements for sites like The Atlantic and Fast Company. The time is now, I believe, for thinking about content as a separate entity unto itself, not beholden to one platform but rather extendable across platforms.
Now is content’s rising sun moment:
In 2000 your home online was your website. No longer. Now the online ecosystem looks this way:
This is my favorite visual representation of cross-platform publishing (from this amazing presentation):
We are moving into an increasingly mobile environment, especially during evening hours. In fact, 22% of web content is now consumed via mobile and many hours of the day, indeed most of the hours outside of normal work hours, see more mobile use than desktop use (source):
We must remember that mobile is diverse. There are apps, readers, tablets, small screens, and big screens. The split between smartphones and tablets varies by age range, of course, though the data shows us that people of all ages use both (source):
What people are doing on them varies by category and type as well, with games and social networking winning out but entertainment and lifestyle (and other, which does not have an explanation) both have enough of a percentage to be cited:
While I cannot find usage data over time for reading, I would argue that more and more are reading on their non-laptop devices. I personally consume 90% of the content I read on my iPad or iPhone on the subway. But this is not always (actually, it usually is not) a great experience. This graph shows the difference in how people consume content according to the time of day, though:
Increasingly the media we want to consume requires Internet but we don’t always have it. This especially applies to video and presentations. Pocket, formerly ReadItLater, cannot show videos offline, and apparently it does not show presentations either. If this is the gist of your content within your post, your content is all of a sudden inaccessible to people reading content offline.
For example, take the post that inspired this one, Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content. I originally read it on my iPad Mini. It was a huge block of text (and it is quite long, coming in at 11,164 words), but at the top of the blog post online you see a video and a presentation:
When I originally read the post on my iPad though, not connected to wireless, I saw this:
You’ll also notice that I could not even see that a presentation was embedded. I was indeed able to read the text, which was amazing, but most writing is not this incredible and supporting materials are there to help make the post what it is. When a writer/artist spends time carefully crafting their content, it is a shame that it may not be presented exactly how they would like.
Some sites, like Fast Company, are doing a decent job of making their site still readable on the iPad even when the site is not responsive:
But it doesn’t come up as an article in GetPocket. Instead I have to use the web version, which as we have seen above is problematic:
Content can be fixed though, and in my opinion the way it is fixed gets us back to the essence of content creation and writing. The biggest change, though, is a mindeset shift from content created for a platform to content that lives outside of platform and moves across platforms. Here are a few ideas for how content should work:
Transcripts for video
Videos are made to be consumed on the desktop. Video on mobile feels like it has been retrofitted to the device, and it never works quite well. Either the video won’t render well because of slow 3G, or it doesn’t work for other people around because the person watching the video is not using headphones (I live in New York City and ride the subway to and from work; this happens with surprising regularity).
What is the alternative? Simply, transcripts. While transcripts are not ideal from anyone’s perspective, including one at least allows content consumers to read what is happening in the video and know if it is worth their time to go find the video once they have an Internet connection again.
SEOmoz does this well with their Whiteboard Friday series:
And it is digestible offline:
On that note, I’d also love to be able to add webpages from mobile to a folder or service that I can reference anew when I get back to my desktop.
I recently switched my personal photography site over to a responsive design. For the past year, it was pretty much impossible to navigate on a smartphone, and a tablet was not much better. I made the switch on New Years Day, and here is the traffic change (this is all traffic, not just organic, which has also seen a jump)
And just like I wrote back in September on the Distilled site, doing this has improved every key mobile metric on the site in this short period of time:
Different headlines for different devices
A point that Karen makes in her original diatribe is that different headlines work on different platforms, so we may even need to start creating new headlines depending on where the content is displayed.
What I would love is the ability to push, from the CMS, different titles to different platforms like social, apps, and RSS.
This implementation will be tricky, and will involve more work for the writers, but as Karen says we’re getting back to the essence of journalism where you write multiple headlines depending on the publication and audience. This is the new direction of web publishing, I think. While print tries to move to digital, digital cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Best practices are best practices for a reason!
This is what I want my WordPress editor to look like:
Each title will be saved in the database in a separate field and pulled as needed. The RSS/App title will be pulled by apps like Pulse or Flipboard. We may need a new standard for app publishers for this to work well, though.
The Social Problem
We also have a social problem. Currently, the way social works when content is published sucks. Some of the big publishers might do it better, like NY Mag, but for 99% of websites and blogs, you see updates like this (and I am incredibly guilty of publishing this crap as well):
So Twitter doesn’t do what we want, and Facebook doesn’t do what we want without manual input. I hate that every time I publish a post, I then have to go to Buffer or Tweetdeck (since I can’t pick times for posts to publish from within Twitter.com for some dumb reason) to then manually write out the tweets I want.
What if, when you published a post, you could also specify the tweets (and the number of them), the time, and also specify how a Facebook update will look?
I’d do it this way in my dream CMS:
From desktop to mobile
Fred Wilson recently wrote some great posts about mobile, and rethinking mobile-first launch or development. The first was called ReThinking Mobile First, and the second was called A Blog Post Written On The Mobile Web. My friend Aaron Friedman also wrote a very entertaining post on his tablet.
But we’re not talking here about publishing from a tablet or mobile device. We’re talking about publishing content that is then pushed to, and optimized for, mobile devices as well as desktop.
We are currently encountering the problems with cross-platforms. The mobile-first idea neglects the desktop users, of whom there are still many. But equally, desktop-centric ignores mobile. We cannot forget either.
There has to be a better way. And this involves:
- Desktop and mobile-optimized titles
- Desktop and mobile-optimized images that scale up or down for the platform
- Removal of links (with a notice that a link has been removed) when read within an offline app
- Ability to save a piece of content to be read on a different platform to get the full experience. I picture something like how Netflix works across Apple devices. I can flick a movie from my iPhone to my iPad Mini to an Apple TV easily. Content should be so easy to use!
How is this marketing?
It’s marketing in a loose, wide sense. We’re talking here about content accessibility, which is content marketing. I’ve been known as an SEO consultant (and I do SEO), but I’m increasingly trying to rebrand myself as a holistic online marketer that can do search, but also larger areas of marketing too. And in SEO, we talk about getting your content onto other platforms (aka websites) to build links back to your own.
What I’m talking about here is even better though. We’re getting the same content (so we have to produce less of it) in front of new people (a new audience) in a way that is user-friendly and increases our serendipity with our users. And because we’re doing a little bit more work on the front end, we ultimately get to do less and can either enjoy more free time or be able to do more in the same amount of time.
Isn’t that exciting??