9 years, 4 months ago

Smart Content

There are several characteristic features of so-called smart content.

  • Content enhanced to be fit-to-purpose … content that is organized and structured for customer tasks and needs, not just for the production, packaging and distribution of physical documents. (Mirko Minnich, ex Elsevier)
  • Self-organizing and transparent content, organizing itself automatically depending on your context, goals, and workflow, and allowing you to see why it’s doing what it’s doing. (Mark Stefik, Xerox PARC)
  • Granular at the appropriate level, semantically rich, useful across applications, and meaningful for collaborative interaction. (Gilbane Group)
  • Has good metadata (not lots), fit for purpose, uses classifications to provide context and aid discoverability (Madi Solomon, Pearson)

And there are several characteristic technologies that are supposed to facilitate smart content, among other things. Some of these technologies are linked to Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Come on Tim!

  • Semantic technologies to cross-reference and cross-polinate with other kinds of content. (Madi Solomon, Pearson)

As Natasha Fogel pointed out, “smart content is in the eye of the beholder” – in other words, the perceived smartness of content is relative to its context of use.

But in this post, I don’t want to talk about the technologies themselves but about the emerging value propositions that may be supported by smart content. Last year, when he was a SVP at scientific and technical publisher Elsevier, Mirko Minnich talked about two key enablers for smart content. Firstly a value-adding process – transmuting content into scientific data, and transmuting scientific data into solutions. And secondly what he calls a product bridge, not only linking content with data but also linking the content business with the data analytics business. The product bridge appears to be a kind of platform, and Mirko was using the term “Smart Content” to refer to the platform itself as well as the content delivered on the platform.

Mirko’s strategy at Elsevier represented a strong drive towards asymmetric design – in other words, recognizing that in order to deliver indirect value into a complex ecosystem you have to move away from a traditional product-based business model (in Elsevier’s case, selling scientific journals) towards regarding your business as a multi-sided platform.

Mark Stefik (Xerox PARC) puts smart content into an organizational intelligence frame – the intelligence is now located (reified) in the content as well as in the people producing and consuming the content. Instead of the user asking “what content do I need”, Mark wants the content to ask “who needs me?” Madi Solomon (Pearson) seems to be suggesting the exact opposite when he mentions the Big Shift from Push to Pull in his recent presentation on Smart Content. We can resolve this apparent contradiction only by understanding the intelligence as the property of the whole system rather than trying to locate it in one place – see my material on organizational intelligence.


Seth Grimes, Six definitions of smart content (Information Week, Sept 2010)Several of the quotes above come from this article.

Technology in Publishing (Editors Update, Elsevier, Jan 2011)
Next Generation Clinical Decision Support (Elsevier Press Release, Feb 2011)

Madi Solomon, Making Information Pay (April 2011)