Through a series of posts over the last six months, I have been taking a run at some very basic questions about what it is we mean when we talk about content and, more particularly, about managing content. This might strike some as pedantry of the worst kind and perhaps it will be unmasked as such at some point in the future. The truth is that I simply don’t believe we, as a community of practitioners, have really dug deeply enough into the question of what is content for us to be able to move onto endeavouring to manage it effectively. And I think that my interest in this area has been fuelled by contact with a group of people who have begun to meet and discuss the topic of “intelligent content”. You can immediately see how the declaration that content can be intelligent would prompt me to first try to establish what content is and only then to proceed to consider the ways in which it might be considered “intelligent”.
I am returning to this topic in part because I am turning my thoughts to preparing my presentation for Intelligent Content 2010 which is being convened in Palm Springs on February 26-27, 2010. Last year, the inaugural meeting of this event was a great success in that it assembled a very engaging group of people, hailing from an unusually broad range of backgrounds, to collaboratively explore how content intelligence might be maximized and leveraged. In this year’s presentation, I will be elaborating on the idea of “Intelligent Content Management” as the ascendant and even necessary successor to “enterprise content management”, which I will suggest has somewhat under-performed both as an area of focus and as an industry.
For last year's event (www.intelligentcontent2009.com), I delivered a keynote address called "Content Fusion; or, There's a Piece of Data Lodged in my Document" (points were awarded to those who spotted the Monty Python reference).
In preparation for last year’s event, I also prepared a white paper that seemed to be reasonably well received by conference participants. A year later, I still find that it serves its intended purpose – that of introducing the concept of intelligent content and offering some thoughts on why it has arisen as a topic of interest at this point in time.
The following definition was put forward in this paper and it seemed to make it into circulation within the presentations and conversations of last year’s event, which I took to be a good sign that I was not too far off-base:
“Intelligence refers to the ability to acquire and apply knowledge (normally a quality attributed to people but not exclusively), or to a collection of information of value in a particular context (OED). Content can be considered intelligent when it expresses, in an open way, the full meaning underlying a communication such that the data, information and knowledge being expressed can be easily accessed and effectively leveraged by both people and the software applications that support them.”
Interestingly, the various explorations I have since pursued into what we mean by “content” have not undermined this definition in the least. In effect, I have been thinking more and more about the different ways in which data, information and knowledge manifest themselves in content and how each calls for different types of processing in order to be capitalized upon. For example, data is about representation and therefore it benefits from precision in its validation and interpretation. Information, oriented as it is towards transactional effectiveness, is geared to forming useful expressions of meaning and providing the mechanisms whereby these meanings can be rendered so as to achieve maximum effect. Knowledge transcends any one content instance although its traces will be evident throughout and in particular in the interrelationships, both explicit and implicit, manifest in the content that connect it to other content instances (forming a network, or web, of relationships that together represent an expression of a shared understanding of a subject). Intelligent content, as my original definition suggests, exposes, in a processable form, all of these content dimensions.
Needless to say, truly intelligent content is not an overly commonplace occurrence. This is not too surprising but nor should it be too distressing. In most environments, there will be a level of content intelligence that will recommend itself as sufficient and it will be the general capability of the community in which that content will be created and used that will determine what level of content intelligence is worthwhile pursuing. The challenge lies in determining where the right level of intelligence will be for a given community and then monitoring the environment for capability changes. Processes where the level of content intelligence is below what the community could leverage will under-perform, almost by definition. Processes where the level of content intelligence exceeds what the community as a whole can deal with will also under-perform in that the investment in content intelligence will not be balanced by the ability of process participants to leverage that intelligence.
So it is not true that elevated content intelligence will always be a good thing. However, with the general advancement of open content technologies (with this including the ongoing incursion of open standards into the technology mainstream) it is true to say that the time has arrived wherein elevated content intelligence can spark opportunities for explosive innovation amongst those in a position to exploit it.