From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

June 29, 2005*: Content? Did somebody mention content?

So there I was, devoting much too much time to the almost countless items inundating my inbox, when the title on the more or less daily e-newsletter devoted to search caused me to do a sort of Holywoodian double take: Why Quality Content is Key For Search Engines. I enjoy reading the newsletter where this item appeared. It's a quality publication and it has lots of information that, although often not particularly useful to me, keeps me abreast of what's happening in search technologies. But since it's devoted primarily to search strategies I was surprised to read that it was also dealing with "content" - and not only in the title of an article. Admittedly, for many years already I'd held the belief that the important, defining principle of a web page was to inform us of something that we perhaps didn't know already, but I'd grown to understand that I was in a minority. Was I now discovering that the world was coming around to agreeing with me?

The basic idea behind quality content seems to be pretty simple, even obvious: people spend time reading web pages because those pages tell them something that's important and/or informative to them. If they get to a page that promises information on a particular subject but doesn't produce, they're not going to stick around for long. This is directly related to the concept of what I call value-added info. The basic idea here is a very simple principle: if your company is going to have a web site to promote itself or sell its wares, it should expand the materials on the site to include additional information that could be of interest, or could spark the interest, of somebody who arrives at the site. Though Jakob Nielsen might think that getting straight to the point is a virtue, I'm inclined to believe that many searchers are pleased to discover that a site they visit offers them more than what they came for.

Is content enjoying a resurgence? Have people gotten to the point at which they realize that all the pyrotechnics that jazz up a site are useless if you don't have a point worth being made? Or perhaps we're dealing with something that isn't new at all, and only the more or less natural ebb and flow of writing about the internet brings it again to those web seas that I seem to sail. Back in 1996, for instance, Bill Gates told us that Content is King. And of course he's not the only one making this claim, though just how a web site is supposed to go about getting content is another question.

How a site goes about getting content may be "another question", but it's a question that seems to sidestep the actual central question - what sort of site has to "get" content. To my mind, there's a very basic cart and horse issue involved here. I seem to come from the old school - my basic assumption is that someone builds a web site because that person, or group, or company, possesses knowledge or information - let's call it content - that they want to make available to others. If they don't have that content to begin with, frankly I find it hard to understand why they'd want a web site to begin with, and their attempts at getting content to fuel a web site seem even comical. Even years ago, when personal web sites were still the rage, and people were posting all the records they'd bought, the books they'd read, the meals they'd eaten, we understood that this was the content that the people behind the sites wanted, for some reason, to make available to us. They didn't copy somebody else's list of books read in order to have something to post on their sites. But of course all this only suggests that perhaps this possibly renewed interest in content, rather than signifying a return to an emphasis on what really matters on the web, only shows us how far we've actually strayed from those basics.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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