Enchanted content

Earlier this month I participated in the Transformation Society’s Probing Our Future study — and wrote about my initial impressions.

The people behind the study, Ray Gallon and Neus Lorenzo, came up with a list of “superpowers” with which content creators (including, but not limited to technical writers) can improve the content they deliver and the way they deliver it.


Image source: Transformation Society

As I ponder this, I notice that some of the superpowers are rooted in a common objective: knowing our audience so well that we can deliver exactly what they need, when they need it. The superpower of mind reading, for example, would let us know essentially everything about our audience. Things like:

  • The job they do
  • The task they’re trying to complete
  • Their domain knowledge
  • Their cultural preferences
  • Their disabilities and limitations
  • Their socioeconomic status
  • The hardware and software platforms they prefer
  • The choices they’ve made in the past

The list could go on. But you get the idea: if we want to know our audience, there’s a lot to know.

Even though the information industry has made great strides with things like web analytics and inference engines, I think it’s obvious that we’ll never know everything about our audience. Especially since each member of our audience presents a constantly moving target. For example, think of how much you’ve changed in the last year or so in terms of reading habits, or domain knowledge, or experience level with a particular software program.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to know our audience. It’s just that we’ll never know our audience perfectly. We’ll never fully be able to mind-meld with them.

It follows, then, that we’ll never be able to give them perfectly tailored content precisely when they need it.

So what can we do?

Empowering the content, not the creators

We can focus on creating content that adapts to as many different people, in as many different situations, as possible.

This is what Ray Gallon was getting at, commenting on my recent blog post, when he said that “personalized information needs to be an offer – a selection of things that a person can choose from.” It’s what Mark Baker envisions when he says that hypertext unlocks our trove of information in such a way that every reader can access it in the way that makes sense to them.

So when it comes to superpowers, let’s focus on our content — not on ourselves. Our content needs to be shape-shifting, to suit a particular reader at a specific moment. Like the mythological weapons that made their owners invincible, our content needs to be powerful, almost magical. Enchanted, even.

Enchanted. As in David Rose’s Enchanted Objects: everyday things that “know” about us and can monitor us, prompt us, inform us, and delight us. Pill bottles that remind us when to take the next dose. Fitbit watches that track our physical movements and guide us to healthy choices. (At least, that’s the sales pitch.)

Creating enchanted content

Can we create enchanted content? What will it look like? I know it’ll have a hypertext component, as Mark maintains, and an element of choice, per Ray.

What other attributes will it have? How about:

  • Artificial intelligence, so that it learns about the reader as the reader interacts with it. (We can’t get away from knowing the audience, can we?)
  • The flexibility to display properly on different devices, in different environments, in a way that seems (to the reader) to be effortless.

Do you think enchanted content is part of our future? What do you think it will look like? To make it reality, what do we, as a profession, need that we don’t have today?

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