The need for adaptive content

Earlier this week I caught up on the latest webinar from The Content Wrangler, Scott Abel, on Mobile Devices and the need for Adaptive Content (you’ll need to sign up for a free BrightTalk account to view it).

In the webinar, Charles Cooper explains his definition of adaptive content:

content that is designed to adapt to the needs of the customer, not just cosmetically, but also in substance and in capability

So, adaptive content needs to change not only how it looks, but its form and function too. Most importantly, that change needs to be automatic and driven by information gathered from the device being used.

An example given to illustrate this is how we might deliver content differently if we can detect the download speed of a device. If download speed is slow we could choose to present rich media content as text, rather than say beginning an automatic download of a large file. Choice is key though, so I’d also advocate for providing the option for the user to download the media content if desired.

Another consideration for us is what constitutes mobile. In terms of devices; phone, tablet, e-reader, laptop, wearable tech. And also in our attitudes to mobile. At one time mobile was seen as lesser and content was reduced as a result. In some areas now, it’s more capable and offers more options for personalisation for the user.

 by lukew, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  lukew 

For my work, the key takeaways from this discussion are more about how we define content itself and the impact that planning for adaptive content has on content creators.

1. We need to stop thinking of our content as pages

Each piece of content is an element that can be remixed in different contexts. It’s simple really, but I think it can be difficult to break the mindset of the web being about sites and pages. Ever since I read Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile I’ve tried to change to thinking about content as chunks and ‘writing for the chunk and not the page’.

2. A culture change among content creators may be required

If we’re creating content that can be remixed and reused in multiple places then we need to build a culture of sharing among our content creators. Ownership is a key issue here though. We need to let go of the negative side of content ownership, where we feel protective of what we’ve created, but someone  needs to retain responsibility for the content to make sure it’s updated and curated.

3. Content standards are crucial

Moving towards adaptive content means that content from multiple creators is more likely to be presented side-by-side. This means that it’s even more important that content standards are in place and applied to make sure we have consistency.

Reading about writing

This week I have read a lot about writing as I’m working on updating our house styles and guidance on writing for the web. With this post I simply want to collect together everything I’ve read.

A couple of classics
Orwell, G. (1946) ‘Politics and the English Language’. Horizon, April 1946. Reprinted with permission by The Orwell Prize.

(And also available from Penguin for a mere £0.99, with free postage in the UK) 

Along with Orwell’s six rules for writing this essay includes the following, which I am seriously considering including in our style guide:

A scrupulous writer in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Strunk, W. and White, E.B. (2000) The Elements of Style with revisions, an introduction and a chapter on writing by E.B. White [foreword by Roger Angell]. 4th, International edition. New York: Pearson International.

I borrowed this from the library, but I think it’s something that should become a permanent feature on my desk.

A modern twist
Murphy, C. and Persson, N. (2013) The Craft of Words. Part One: Macrocopy. Penarth: Five Simple Steps.

This is a really clear and engaging little book. Its design is crisp and best of all the ebook only costs a couple of quid.

I’ve decided to use the introduction to chapter 4, Language is a lubricant, as my writing mantra:

Established norms of written communication – such as spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalisation – all exist to aid understanding and to ease the process of communication. In short: it is polite to write well.

Style guides
As I’ve researched style guides I’ve added the ones I like to a collection on Bundlr.

There’s also some interesting research assessing GOV.UK’s content principles by the Centre for Information Design Research at the University of Reading.

And there you have it. Happy reading and writing everyone.

On changing lanes and transferable skills

I have been struggling with how to write about my new job and change of career path for a while. When I stumbled across a post about changing lanes by Rich Lee, everything changed. First of all he sets the scene and gives some great descriptions of the different types of job change. Rich then goes on to talk about his own experience, what he’s learned from that and to give some great advice to anyone considering a change of lanes.

This post finally helped me to think differently about how my career has changed direction over the past few months. I’m going to use some of the headings and questions posed by Rich to frame my post.

My experience and motivation

I started 2013 knowing that I was going to be leaving my job at Warwick Library at some point during the year. My plan was to relocate to be with my then partner who had been working back in the north east since November 2012. By the end of February I had handed in my notice. At that point I had no job to go to but was hopeful that I could find something, anything, while I worked out my three month’s notice.

When I began my job search my goal was to find a job in one of the north east’s four university libraries. As my search went on however, I realised that the kind of job I wanted just didn’t exist in libraries. Or if it did whoever had it certainly wasn’t going to leave it any time soon. To find a job quickly it was necessary to start looking for opportunities outside libraries. As I began to look into other options I became increasingly excited by the possibility of trying something completely different and in the end finding a job outside of libraries became my aim.

By the time I had finished at Warwick I had a temporary post as a Learning Resource Designer at Durham Business School. This step took me to a role that still bore some similarities to the work I did as a librarian; creating learning materials, delivering training, providing access to ebooks, answering student enquiries, working closely with programme teams and academics. It was different, but not different enough!

So I began looking for jobs again and this time I cast my net far and wide. An opening for a Web Content Officer came up in the Corporate Web Team at Newcastle University. I went for it, and got it.

I have experience of working on websites and web projects; I was Web Officer for the Business Librarians’ Association from 2009 – 2013 and was on the project team and content working group during the redevelopment of Warwick Library’s website. It has never been the main focus of my role though.

The biggest changes for me are the move away from teaching and learning, and no longer working directly with students. Not only is the day to day work different but it’s also a new environment to work in. There’s a lot to learn, but that’s how I like it.

Factors

In his post, Rich lists some factors that you should consider when thinking about a lane change. Underneath each I’ve added my own thoughts which should fill in the detail of how I got to where I am today.

The skills you currently have that will be directly or indirectly applicable to the proposed new role. This one will take some reflection, because it’s not immediately apparent what kind of overlap that might exist.

When I first started applying for jobs outside of libraries I spent a lot of time trying to look beyond my job’s responsibilities and everyday tasks to the skills required to do them. Once I had done this, it became much easier to look at a job description and person specification and decide whether it was something I could apply for. Doing this totally changed the way I approached my job search too; I stopped looking for specific job roles and looked at the skills required instead.

For my current role this was especially important:

  1. a web job would not necessarily have come up in my search if I had still been narrowly focused on library and information roles
  2. taking the job responsibilities and person specification at face value I could quite easily have convinced myself that I didn’t meet the criteria chosen not to apply

Being clear about what skills I have and how they can be easily transferred to other contexts gave me a different perspective when I read the criteria and I was confident that I could put in a strong application.

The obvious/traditional career path the new role would offer, PLUS the flexibility the potential role would add to your repertoire for future lane changes.

As a subject librarian I had reached a point in my career in libraries where there was no obvious next step which would allow me to continue to do the work I enjoyed. The next level in libraries would have been a move into management and this isn’t something I wanted at that time. The potential for career development that a move into a new field would give me was therefore a really key factor.

The new skills I’m learning around writing and editing content, and user testing and experience are just as transferable as the skills and knowledge I built up working in libraries. In combination I really feel that I’ve opened up a whole world of opportunity for the future.

The teams and individuals you do and would work with on a daily basis. When you see folks more days a week than not, you’d better like them! They should compound your enthusiasm, your drive to innovate, and share a similar value system to your own. If there’s a marked difference in culture, values, workflow, or communication styles, don’t take this lightly.

This is a difficult one to judge as you rarely get to meet the whole team before taking on a new job. You can certainly get an insight into this at interview though, and it comes back to that old idea that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.

It meant a lot to me that the interview panel saw and valued my potential over any existing experience, and this gave me a good indication of the culture in the team. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the job had gone to someone who was already doing this kind of role at another university.

I’d recommend you use your opportunity for questions at the end of the interview to try to find out as much as possible about the team you would be working with. At the end of my interview we talked for 5-10 minutes about general aspects of web development, prompted by my question about upcoming projects for the team. This more informal conversation helped me to get a feel for the people interviewing me, their interests and characters.

If you’re pondering a jump to a new company AND a new role, factor in the equity you’ve built in the existing company. Seniority has perks, so make sure the leap is worth your while.

This one wasn’t so much of an issue for me. When I left Warwick it was because of relocation and there was no option to stay with my previous employer. At Durham it was a temporary post and with no certainty of the contract being extended I left on good terms.

I do think you can look at this in relation to the networks you have built up though. I have a very strong professional network in the library community and think I have built up a good reputation for myself within it. I did have some reservations about leaving this behind. There is of course some overlap with what I’m doing now, especially in the area of user experience. I’m using this to maintain my connection to the library community, while starting to build up an extension to my network in my new field.

Final thoughts
Job hunting is hard work and even harder when you’re looking to change careers. You really can make things easier if you take some time to identify what transferable skills you have and then use these as keywords to set up your search. This will yield a really broad range of jobs coming into your inbox (if you set up alerts), you can then start to refine your search by adding more criteria based on the results that interest you.

My final final thought, something which I was told a year or two back: don’t take yourself out of the race.
I keep this in the forefront of my mind when thinking about applying for jobs. It’s for someone else to decide whether you’re up to the task. If you don’t put an application in, you’ve eliminated yourself before the process has even begun.

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