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Content Containers

Steve Abram gave us some  of his thoughts on where content is going and what containers for it will mean.  Here are some questions we need to think about.

Why do we need containers for content?  The boundaries of the container define what is open.  What do you do when your books are all in a massive container in the cloud?  What will our role be?

What does social change?  Is it the book or the degree you get?  How do you align the container with the way people work?  Is the container the book or the human you’re serving?  If we are really focusing on the end user, what does that container do?

People approach the world in very different ways.  What kind of content will work for each person?  What does your library do to support visually oriented people, for example?  If we don’t evolve with the changes that are happening, we will have major problems.  What are the containers that hold the scaffold of learning?  How will our vendors react to the changes?  What are the behaviors that we’re supporting?

 What’s driving the need for open? 

  • User expectations—they expect videos on your website. 
  • The architecture has changed.   It’s not HTML any more. Does your website look like a social site?  If you’re not “friended” with your users you are running towards irrelevance. 
  • Social media
  • Experience trends
  • APIs
  • Personalization

We used to lose most of our friends when we had a life shift.   Now with social media, they come along with us, and we’re still connected with them.  Our devices are now personal devices.  They know where we are and can deliver information to us based on that.  Would you let people go through your cell phone and see your contact lists, music, and downloads?  Your phone has become all about you.

Are you comfortable using APIs to connect everything together?  They are tools that allow us to create an experience.  We are going to see a massive shift in discovery and experience.

How do we ring the “attention bell” and let people know what you have?  Who do you ask for help on Google?  In a library, we have real people who know what they are doing.

What will change with ubiquitous access?  What does your experience look like?  We used to have carrels; now we have groups interacting. Re-imagine your space, both physical and virtual.  Is the traditional book now a hollow experience?  No because it’s not a book any more.  The traditional textbook is being transformed into a very different space. 

What is the traditional book now?

The old containers will not go away, but they are always physical: books, magazines, periodicals, etc.  The content is becoming an experience.  Old containers are losing market and mindshare, especially in the discovery and learning space.  For example, the largest MBA program in North America is at the University of Athabaska in Alberta where it gets to -52 degrees in the winter.  There are no students on campus; everything is distance education. 

How do we change the dynamic of using the library?  Do you have a good reference librarian on duty when the second peak of usage (10 PM to 2 AM) occurs?  Do you know where your users are?  If you know that, you can change the way you serve your users.  There are reasons to get closer to users–that’s why we have branches of public libraries–but we need to get closer to them when the new containers are mostly virtual–e-courses, e-learning objects,  websites, portals, events, etc.  How do these fit into a positive transformational experience?

What do we do with chapters, clips, and graphics to create an engaging experience?  Gaming is the most widely used application in libraries.  How do we embed learning into the experience?

Keys to success in containers:

  • Focus on the end users in context.
  • Content is not enough; focus on the results of the experience.
  • Learning is a social experience; we are social animals.
  • Look at how we deal with collectors, not collections.
  • Short and long term subscription models will change.
  • Design for use, not clicks; transformations not transactions.
  • Accommodate different learning styles.

What are your end user goals?  Do you measure clicks? Articles? Transactions?

How do we build knowledge, experience, and learning portals?  Build products that cater to psychographic experiences.  Will we be able to design a 21st century book?  Or will we continue to defend a 16th century technology?  We are going to assemble books for people, not just send them to a database.  The containers no longer matter; what does is how we put them together and create and  connect a community. 

Reading will matter; are we confusing books and reading?  How do we recommend things?  Do we offer podcasts, and circulate books from everywhere?  These are not frills; they are core to the information learning experience.

These are exciting times.  Choose between achieving a dynamic and exciting future vision or longing for a nostalgic past.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today, and CIL 2010 Blog Coordinator

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