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July 7, 2010

Content strategy for foodies

Content is like food. At its best, it’s a carefully choreographed experience, like dining at a fine restaurant. This line of reasoning was kicked off by a tweet from Tristan Bishop (@KnowledgeBishop):

To enable self-service support is to lay out a rich buffet. To do otherwise forces guests to beg outside your kitchen. #techcomm #custserv

My initial reply:

@KnowledgeBishop “rich buffet” versus “soup kitchen” — you’ll take this content and you’ll like it. #techcomm #custserv

And then I thought we might be on to something, so I made a taxonomy of food-based content strategy. (Meanwhile, Tristan wrote Content: A Banquet Best Served Warm.)

  • Buffet. So much content, you don’t even know what to do. Totally overwhelming, and you’ll never find exactly what you’re looking for. Or, by the time you find it, your brain is full. It looks fabulous, but you’re so distracted by the ice sculptures that you forget what information you actually need. Quite often, this is a corporate web site. It’s pretty, and all the information is there, but there’s way too much of it, and no obvious way to filter it.

    Buffet looks spectacular, but how do you choose?

    Buffet of excess // flickr: jimg944

  • Soup kitchen. This is another common approach to technical content. The content consumer is given little respect and no control over the user experience. Here, I expect to see a web site chock full of ugly, enormous PDF files—indigestible, unhealthy, and generally unappealing.
  • Fast food. It’s cheap to produce, available everywhere, and people are familiar with it. But in the end, it’s not particularly nutritious, and you probably shouldn’t have it all the time. I’m not sure about the content equivalent—perhaps the FAQ?
  • Fine dining. You have to pay, but in return you get a carefully orchestrated experience. Everything from the architecture, the menu’s visual and technical design, the service, and the presentation is intended to enhance your experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in corporate documentation, although some game manuals come close. The best example I can think of is some of the better-designed third-party manuals, such as the Head First and Missing Manual series.
  • Potluck. We’re headed for a life of potluck content. Everyone’s a contributor, the quality varies wildly from one item to the next, and sometimes you end up with too many desserts and not enough main dishes. The most successful potlucks usually involve someone orchestrating the whole thing—asking each guest to bring a specific type of item to ensure that the overall menu is balanced.
  • Farmer’s market. For me, the most enjoyable food experience is when I get to make my own choices. I go to the farmer’s market, pick out fresh, local, in-season food, take my loot home, and make something fabulous. And serendipity is a big part of the hunt. I thought I wanted blueberries but instead find blackberries. Next to the crowder peas, I find a basket of tomatillos.

If your content is food, then are you providing a handout, a cruise ship buffet, a potluck, or something else? What should your content be? Is it important for your readers to eat their vegetables?

Related: Content: A Banquet Best Served Warm, Tristan Bishop

PS Tristan is doing a webcast on knowledge integration next week. The event is free but registration is required.