The Content Corner: A World Without Web Pages

Mar 16, 2015
Global Communication and Data Concept Symbols

Imagine a world without Web pages, only intelligent, self-assembling chunks of content waiting to respond to your needs. The page is irrelevant, there may be no context beyond what is included in your content. The content has to survive on its own, perform its goals on its own. Originally when creating content, you would take into account the things that surround it on that page; they give it additional context and relevance. What if you strip all that away and all you have is a title, intro, and body? Or a title and a snippet or chunk? Or a title and an image…can your content survive on its own?

By imagining this post-Web page world, my hope is that it helps our community better grasp and become stronger advocates for the critical work that lies ahead.

Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated

The origins of the post-Web page world can be found in the works of William W. Tunnicliffe, who is credited with first espousing the importance of separating content from its presentation layer in 1967. Jump ahead to the rise of the Web content management system (CMS), and this concept began to gain traction among Web designers and content creators. However, we focused our attentions on the back-end only and not the front-end. We (sort of) used the CMS to separate content from the design (from a content creator standpoint) only to fuse the two back together for the user. And in all honesty, content creation remained focused on the end product which was the site. In fact, from my experience back in what might have been the early days of CMS, it seemed the main focus was making sure no one used any wacky HTML styles (like making the text red) as opposed to a true strategy of separating content from design. Separating the two was absolutely the right thing to do, but it has taken the maturation of a variety of technologies to allow us to fully separate the content from the design or the site entirely. Social media platforms have driven the separation from the front-end and is now forcing changes to the back-end and the content creation process.

A Change in Perspective

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This full separation is inherent in the concept of adaptive design and the much-referenced COPE developed by NPR. The article on COPE was published in 2009, so just as with the initial advances of the content and presentation layer concepts, these changes take time. Sometimes a change in perspective—looking at what is being taken away (the website) as opposed to what needs to be added (structure)—can help a concept’s progress.

Jumping ahead and visualizing the natural course of today’s trends can also help to shift our efforts and focus away from building new or better websites and towards building better content.

Better Content = Structured Content

If we embrace the post-Web page world then we have to fully concentrate on structure and content because we realize that those items are all we will have. In fact, this future makes it easier to agree, as some have suggested, that structure should be given a higher priority than the content itself.

Speaking of structure, I am not purposefully glossing over it in this column, but deferring to those who have already given us all a good foundation. Holly Irving at the National Institutes of Health and so many of our other peers have done some fabulous work in this area, stressing the importance of using:

We are not there yet, but the day is rapidly approaching where almost all content will be retrieved via social media or sharing, and its origin is completely irrelevant. Or maybe we’re already there and Web pages and Google search results are only hanging around as legacy containers because all this stuff we are sharing and tweeting has to have some original home.

Fairly new features such as Twitter Cards are just another example of the continued irrelevance of an actual website. By adding the Twitter card code to your existing site, you are actually improving your site’s ability to be irrelevant and setting your content free. It must be able to live on its own and move freely through whatever platform it encounters and needs to be displayed upon. Maybe that platform and display will be a Web page, but most likely in the near future it won’t be.

If you want to learn more about surviving in the post Web page world, I recommend this upcoming webinar on structured content. If you want to share your own experiences or continue this conversation (or suggest future topics for The Content Corner), leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @tyrusman.You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.