Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't Just COPE. Call The COPS On Your Content.


Content devices, platforms, and delivery are becoming more complex. Our approach to these changes must retain a strong editorial approach in addition to advances in technology. OR ELSE.

A recent, delightful A List Apart article by the super-smart Sara Wachter-Boettcher, "Future-Ready Content," brought back some memories for me. A few days later, Brad Frost's article there, "For a Future Friendly Web," did the same.

I remember hearing about something exciting back in 2009 or so. It was clear, simple, and full of hope. It had the answers. A silver bullet.

The concept was simple: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. It even had a smart acronym: COPE.  Daniel Jacobson at NPR detailed the concept in a blog post.

We needed a COPE coping mechanism

Since 1996, I had been working in an industry that needed the help: public radio. TONS of content (old, new, and upcoming), new platforms, new audiences, and more.

It quickly became apparent that the COPE silver bullet had a bit of tarnish on it, from a marketing and distribution perspective.

COPE works best when there is a single content type, maybe two. Limited content types usually mean a corresponding limited number of end uses. Even then, in my public radio sphere, issues popped up:

  • There was one format for broadcast by radio stations and one for sharing online
  • Critical metadata was often incomplete
  • A less-than-reader-friendly transcript sometimes accompanied the audio asset
  • Hosting concerns about ancillary images or video
  • Content lacked proper context for distribution outside of its native environ

Technical issues worried me in 2009. (They still do. Always will.) But, editorial issues cause me worry now.

Content, publishers become more sophisticated

COPE represents an important step in any content equation. Content is best when device-neutral. Structured content is here to stay, and rightfully so.  (I even wrote about the concept "atomic content" on this blog in 2009.)

In a very basic sense, COPE gets things in order, preps the content for prime time. But it is incomplete.

We can't forget about the life of content that starts after the publish process is complete. (I'm looking at you, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest.)

As organizations create more future-ready content, they’ll need to make sure the folks with their fingers on the publish buttons know what they are dealing with. As the content becomes more sophisticated, flexible, and responsive, so too must those that plan, create, and deliver it.

This is the part where I hold up a big caution sign

I've had experience in other organizations with varying content workflows. Sometimes we are lucky to be in control up the content production river and down. Like on this blog, for example. (If there is a workflow issue, I'll need to go stand in front of a mirror and work it out.)

Other operations are larger than content-ment.com. WAY LARGER. As content-producing operations scale up, things become more complex. WAY COMPLEX. Some difficulties:

  • We content types might not be involved as much. In larger organizations, content experts may have limited opportunity to guide the content strategy process at each step: plan, create, distribute, and govern.
  • Roles become much more specialized and decentralized. Some staff members may create concepts, others produce the content. And others yet may publish and distribute.
  • People with different goals will be in charge of parts of the content lifecycle. Campaigns and concepts are often generated in different rooms than those close to the code and pixels.
  • Departments have different levels of content literacy. Naturally, experience and approaches  with content will vary. Some folks will have old media mastered. Others will be digital natives.

Marketers feeding ever-hungry channel-mouths would be DELIGHTED to see content formatted in a way that allows (and encourages, at least a bit) publishing everywhere, every time. That might lead to content ending up in places where it shouldn't.

COPE makes the assumption that content (once produced, properly marked up, and made available via CMS or API) is suitable for any use. The everywhere in create once, publish everywhere is a marketing catastrophe waiting to happen.

Time to call the COPS

This is why I’ve wished that the acronym wasn’t COPE.

I've my own acronym. Rather than COPE, I want to call the COPS: Create Once, Publish SELECTIVELY. (No relation to the television show of the same name, however.)

It's a bit more labor intensive, but the extra effort will make these endeavors more focused and effective.

COPS would follow those same longview content preparations steps as COPE. In addition, COPS should:

  • Take into account the appropriate-ness of the content for each channel and audience 
  • Add in the editorial and messaging considerations unique to each
  • Use the content only if it meets stated objectives and goals via those channels

These items should be present from the start. But, as I mentioned earlier, those considerations might not survive through the content workflow and the sometimes-dizzying personnel chain that accompanies it. 

Selectivity is the key. We are not only talking about different devices for displaying our content. We are talking about different online platforms, too.


If the COPS theme wasn't already playing in your head, LET ME HELP YOU OUT:



(Image adapted from "More Cops" photo by Flickr user Elmo H. Love (cc: by) )

3 comments:

Kara Thorndyke said...

We're working on a similar idea by including targeted, audience specific, summaries that can be attached to the meat of a story selectively. The best of both worlds?

Clinton Forry said...

Yes, that sounds quite nice. Targeted and specific shows some editorial consideration. And that is a great thing, in my opinion!

Eaton said...

You've definitely hit on something important. I think NPR's COPE model has received a lot of attention because their actual content model is conceptually simple enough to explain on a slide or two, then focus on the complexities of the changes in publishing workflow, governance, etc.

As you noted, in more complex publishing models it's rare to have the luxury of a single "central" content type that'll be syndicated everywhere. We tend to treat the different SETS that will be used as filtered pools for syndication, publishing, and so on as part of the model just as much as the content types themselves. It often bubbles up the need for additional metadata ("We're going to need another field to capture the appropriate locales for this article," for example).

It's one of the reasons that it's all but impossible to design an effective model without understanding the goals. More flexibility for future re-use is good, but as with every kind of API, concrete use cases are essential reality checks.