Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Format-ist

I recently read Richard Thompson's excellent post "Is content strategy biased towards the written word?" I have to admit that during my read and also during the many moments of reflection that followed, I found myself thinking "but there is a good reason to focus on text as the primary format of content." Other content formats are best used to enhance the written word. Heck, I even wrote a blog post extolling the superiority of the written word over text. All the while, however, I was nagged by the possibility (rather probability) that I was projecting my personal own bias.

As I mentioned in my post, I don't have the patience to wait for information to be spooled out at a pace that I cannot control. I like to scan and search and you can't do that very easily in a video or audio. But, I also agree with Rich's point is that many of the most popular websites are filled with non-text content so I would be foolish to deny the appeal. But then I think that these sites are primarily for entertainment purposes and when I am in leisure mode, I am not so goal oriented. I like experiences like movies where I can sit back and let a story unfold.

As you can see with my flip-flopping, I haven't made up my mind on this issue but, like Rich, I am starting to be more aware of the circumstances when non-textual content would be preferable to text. Ideas that come to mind are:

  • Any form of entertainment (many people are more likely to watch a movie or listen to an audio book than read the book on which it was based)

  • Instruction on topics where technique is critical such as hitting a baseball or disarming a nuclear warhead

  • Things that you need to see to believe like pictures of a flooded town.

Can you think of other times when non-text content can go further than the written word? One thing is for certain; when you decide that you can communicate better with non-text content, you better be sure. Many organizations struggle to maintain their text-based content and non-text content is vastly harder to manage. You need more sophisticated skills and tools to update a video or audio track — even a picture. But maybe that is just my own bias peeking out again.