I have been on a self-imposed blogging black-out for a few weeks and in that time I have been reflecting on a question first posed by Julian Wraith several weeks ago.What is the future of content management? Mr. Hart (aka Pie) wrote an insightfull commentary on the topic and describes a future of ubiquitous content management with dynamic security and universal awareness of identity. Identity remains one of the hardest problems we face today – not who can see what but rather – who are they in the first place. As I considered the question it struck me that the greatest changes may not be in how we access it but in the very nature of the content itself.
Brevity is the Soul of Wit
What we write is getting shorter. The most aggressively expanding content category are those billions of short messages being sent through cell phones and posted to Twitter. Acceptance and even promotion of “bursty” short messaging, both person to person and broadcast are fundamentally changing how we communicate. From a content management perspective these are already a part of the eDiscovery story. It is important to remember we are not just talking about messages between stock traders though. Product ideas and strategies are discussed. Problems are posed and resolved. Succinct opinion, position and news are distributed with speed we never thought possible to audiences we never thought to reach.
From a content management viewpoint this surfaces some challenges quickly. Volume for one. Filtering irrelevance for another. These are algorithmic and scale challenges that can largely be met with today’s technology and modes of interaction. What happens though as the other characteristics of this style of communication bleed into mainstream business communications. We joke a great deal about acronyms in technology but the random, often phonetically interpreted abbreviation style spawned by IM and Twitter is problematic for search, concept extraction, OCR, translation and every other form of machine processing of content.
The 140 character limit forces shortening of statements in such a way that you might not decipher them without both conversational(thread) and social(idiomatic) context. I predict there will come a day when twitter style shortening of email and corporate content will become so prevalent that the language will be all but unrecognizable by today’s standards, processes and for that matter people. How will systems adjust? One response may be to simply rely less on the written word.
Sounds and Fury
Pie painted an interesting picture describing the collaboration of two people in a business context on a document. I predict that in the future business content will more often be in a rich media form and not text documents at all. Imagine a legally binding contract in a video or a narrated PowerPoint submitted as a 10K. Hard to imagine corporate attorneys accepting it now but we went through an adjustment and acceptance by legal circles of the efficacy of electronic document records a decade ago. Imaging now is very mature in a business sense. The impact of audio/video as business content is far less so but acceptance of it for legally binding agreements and record keeping is where the future will take us.
Remember the days when two hours after a meeting, the PM sent out the minutes and everyone had to chime in and correct or append them so that the collective memory would be documented? Telepresence, LiveMeeting and WebEx allow for virtual meetings where recordings of the proceedings potentially replace the need for that kind of record keeping altogether. I have seen video analysis tools that can scan through and extract the “interesting” parts of a video to create a 10 minute summaries of four hour recordings. These tools today are primarily for surveillance analysis and triggered by motion detection but the potential of speech recognition and processing add other dimensions.
The shift to A/V business documentation is both technological and social. With the technical capability for simultaneous video and audio capture available in virtually every business setting (e.g. your laptop) the barriers are lifting. Also the expanding bandwidth and cheaper storage diminish the cost barriers that have long obstructed broader use of richer formats in a business context. The demand and acceptance of it in practice will be driven too as the population becomes more comfortable and even dependent on it in their personal lives. By the time my children are my age, they will have thirty plus years of experience in a world where they are more accustomed to shooting digital video than writing anything down. This capability coupled with the shortening of written communication will act as catalysts to moving more and more of the lengthy mundane communication in business into the text + audio/visual or blended format domain.
A critical technology shift will occur when the tooling catches up to the concept. Today, creation of content is aligned with the underlying format and mode of delivery. MS Word as a text oriented tool for all it’s bells and whistles is still limited. I still remember the days when cut and paste required the use of scissors when you wanted to incorporate images in a manual. Embedding audio and visual formats into text oriented documentation is simply not enough to enable the kind of changes that are coming.
The tools for creation of content must seamlessly enable video and audio capture in line with content structure and take into consideration the experience of the “viewer.” You can argue that this is available today but we are a long way from an average middle manager creating a status report simply by looking into the webcam and adding charts and graphs as visual overlays to the video with the wave of a hand.
Lastly the content management systems must adjust to the concept of seemless management and delivery. The very concept of publishing by replication will go away as systems must manage references and inclusion of content anywhere in the clouds. When will we see this brave new world of blended formats and seemless delivery? I believe it will take another generation (or 2 ) of texters and youtube feaks to formally move business records and content away from the all mighty text document – but it will happen. As each generation moves from the tech-savy young workforce up the ladder into the board rooms where buying decisions are made the tolerance and preference for shorter words and blended format will change the way we all work.