I spent most of the last two weeks camping and hiking in the Grand Teton National Park of northwest Wyoming. If you've never visited this national park then take my word on it that Grand Teton is one of the most beautiful places a person can visit in this world. The mountains in this place peak near 13,800 feet and rise from the valley by almost 7,000 feet. Despite the warm summer much of the United States experienced, ice glaciers can still be accessed through a number of day hikes. For anyone that loves the outdoors, this place has everything in the form of wildlife, scenery, and activities. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending from you perspective), what the Grand Teton doesn't have is good 3G or 4G cell phone coverage.
Mobile cell phone coverage in vacation spots like these are spotty at best. There were times my Android 4.0 enabled smartphone phone was rendered into nothing more than a tin can on a string. I'm usually OK with this, but my Jayco CMS developed a problem with it's propane powered refrigerator and a good internet connection would have been very helpful to help me troubleshoot the issue. In the end, old fashion workarounds and a bit of luck fixed my fridge issue at a time when the Internet and its vast amount of content remained unreachable to me. During those two weeks, I quickly found that content was not my king. The desired end product for me was not content but instead it was information.
Entire articles and books have been written on the difference between content, information, and data and this is not the discussion I want to have right now. So, let me give you a short and practical illustration of the difference between information and content. If I can Google or Bing it and the facts I'm seeking is displayed right on the search page...that is information. If I have to follow the links from the search engine to the actual webpage then I'm reading not just information but also content. Some will argue that context is necessary and you need to read the content before understanding the information. However, this is 2012 and the age of the semantic web. Search engines are now doing a much better job understanding the context for the words we place in the search field.
When bandwidth and time is limited or real work needs to be done, people want information and not over-fluffed long-winded content. Just as social media and social networks have reduced the need for people to visit blogs, search engines and smartphone apps are quickly replacing the need for people to read original content on websites. In this paradigm shift, the source of the content no longer matters as much as delivery of information. Good content may still have recreational value to the reader, but for marketers and content owners this shift in Internet culture significantly impacts their opportunity to reach out to consumers directly.
The Internet and the services it provides is beneficial and websites are too well integrated into our lives to be completely abandoned. Websites and blogs will continue to exist but just like television and radio this media will see the growth in audience stagnate or worse dwindle away. My two weeks off the digital grid was a solemn reminder to me that our narcissistic behavior as authors and bloggers have clouded our judgment and in return caused us to overvalue our content. During the vacation, my family found that during our limited time online with limited bandwidth we only sought specific concise information for the weather, directions to points of interest, gas prices, and email access. At no time did we have the opportunity to visit content enriched websites similar to my own CMS Report nor did we read lengthy opinionated articles such as the one you're reading now.
Marketers, authors, and site owners the fact is your content had no value to me during my vacation. So now as I return to my 8 to 5 job, I have to wonder why would I now waste my time reading the same content that really didn't matter to me in a stress free environment? Perhaps, we can blame too much direct sunlight and fresh air on my vacation for why I am preaching this heresy to an audience dedicated to content management. But consider this, device manufactures such as Apple and search services such as Google already know the prize is no longer delivering content to the consumer. There is a realization in the industry that consumers now expect information to be delivered directly from the search engines themselves. Whether you know it or not, Siri and Google Now is just the first wave of services from these companies which will deliver information directly to the consumer without requiring them to visit the origin site for the content.
Google Now gets you just the right information at just the right time.
It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team's score while they’re playing. And the best part? All of this happens automatically. Cards appear throughout the day at the moment you need them.
As consumers rely more and more on Siri, Google Now, and similar products these same people have less need to directly visit content enriched websites for their information. Don't fool yourself in believing that the search engines are there to serve website owners. Quite frankly, it is the other way around and Randy Pausch would more than likely call this the "head fake". In Google and Apple's world, online content is for one purpose: as food for their products and search engines. In this world, content is no longer king but merely a pawn used to feed the information engines of search giants. Until we as content management enthusiasts deal with this, increasing the value of our content and the evolution of our content management systems becomes much more difficult.
Bryan Ruby is the owner and editor for CMS Report. He founded CMSReport.com in 2006 on the belief that information technologists, website owners, and web developers desired visiting sites where they could learn about content management systems without the sales pitch. Besides this site, you can follow Bryan at Google+ and Twitter.