Tuesday, May 11

Blending Content: The Next Step In Journalism

There is one simple reason you don't hear much talk about broadcast-Internet convergence anymore. While public adoption is moving forward at a steady pace, current technology and infrastructure suggest it already happened. Did you miss it?

Sure, there are a few kinks to be worked out, most notably a seamless transition between the content we already access on the computer and the television set (or smart phone) where we view it. But technically, that barrier doesn't exist either. The population as a whole just doesn't know how to make it work yet.

Blended Content In Beta.

If you have a hard time envisioning what the future will look like, there is a real life case study in the making. While it is still crude in its presentation, the future will largely consist of blended content — Web desintations with a combination of articles, blogs, photo galleries, and programming — managed by partnerships between media companies like NBC Digital Networks and major corporations like Procter & Gamble with the content provided by a mix of broadcasters, journalists, authors, experts, and social media personalities.

Can't envision it? Visit Life Goes Strong. While the name rings as weak as any picked-by-committee offering might, Life Goes Strong provides a phase one preview into targeted content. In this case, according to Procter & Gamble, baby boomers between the ages of 45 and 65 years of age. The content is organized in traditional vertical channels — family (www.familygoesstrong.com), style (www.stylegoesstrong.com) and technology (www.techgoesstrong.com) — with contributors ranging from a contributing editor at Newsweek to a former professional fashion buyer.

As mentioned, the initial foundation for the launch is rather crude. It looks very Web 2.0 with a remarkably weak organizational structure that makes fluff seem as interesting as real news content. Much of the content is short. Some of the content is as short as three graphs, leaving readers with the task of answering their own questions. (You can tell someone was convinced that short content was the way to go.) The photos are miserable. And while the release promised video content, it's difficult to find today.

All in all, it's about two steps behind from what I proposed to interested parties three years ago. It didn't move forward for lack of funding. Yet, despite the problems with Life Goes Strong (including a low opinion of its target audience), it represents a very crude glimpse of the future. And it's more likely to supplant what we think of journalism today than my friend Ike Pigott's vision of an embedded journalist.

Moving Beyond Beta.

So what would make Life Goes Strong work beyond a better name and pandering to people who recognize Robert Scoble on the watered-down tech section? Here are five critical areas that need improvement...

• Life Goes Strong has no sense of community. Its old fashioned, soft news nugget presentation is as expected from mass media. You only need to look as far as Facebook to see that people like content.

• The short article format is better suited for a mobile introduction. In general, people want their questions answered in articles over sound bites. The summaries they present as articles are best left as content introductions and not content.

• The concept of blended content requires live video streams (like traditional programming), automatically archived for later video viewing (library), and articles that can be optionally accessed for more in-depth analysis and/or factual background.

• It's obvious too much is borrowed from their original joint venture at Petside.com. While Petside.com reaches 1.5 million people per month, it also relies on the passion people have for their pets. Long tail broad content models can be built on a niche model and expect to capture the same interest.

• Like many sites, the article-blog mushup leaves little to be desired. The future of blended content will require some obvious devisions, letting readers know which content is objective news gathering and which is opinion puff. Currently, this has become one of the number one problems at industry trade pubs like Adweek and AdAge. Sometimes you click on a link and get a well-written article. Sometimes you get five graphs from someone who thinks they know something.

But again, despite where it falls short, Life Goes Strong represents something. As it moves beyond beta, it means content convergence (video, photos, articles, blogs, etc. working together) and format convergence (assuming the content works with smart phones and iPads).

More importantly, it's something for communicators to watch. Even if it doesn't get off the ground with the financial backing of several deep-pocket companies, you can expect more Web desintations like this one. Only better. And that will likely mean that all those tactics you've been developing in the last few years to bypass media will be gone, right out the window.

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