As this project comes to a close, what I’ve learned about organizing and presenting news items using a common language like XML has reinforced what I discovered last semester about online content. Most of these discoveries distill down to this bit of advice:
Media companies, don’t EVER trash your content.
At one point in my career, I contributed an article to the publication I was working for at the time. Nothing fancy, just an interview with an international artist. The publication killed the story, and I never saw it again. I’d publish the story online myself, but the article still legally belongs to the publication. After all, I would not have scored the exclusive interview I needed for it without their help. I don’t think the publication should publish it or post it online to protect my feelings, though that might become a concern with a bigger-egoed writers. I don’t care either way. This article, however, took me weeks of research and use of the publication’s resources to write, and because it didn’t fit the format they were looking for—and frankly because another more seasoned writer had a better article on a similar story—the publication scrapped it.
When a publication scraps any content, it’s like they’re dumping money into the trashcan. Even if an article doesn’t suit an issue or format, it doesn’t mean that piece of content won’t hold any value to someone at some point in time. Online access to this content helps the publication actualize their content’s potential value. Tagging and linking to each piece of content helps interested users get to this content easier.
I’m an archivist at heart. I want to preserve my work and the works of my colleagues for centuries to come, and I want to facilitate the access to these works so the most information reaches as big of an engaged audience as it can over time. But content by itself does not have any agency. As content producers and providers, we must not only post our content online but construct an appropriate mechanism that will automate how this information is shared and linked to other relevant information online, be it our own or someone else’s.
Easier said than done, for sure, but a library of resources exists online to make projects like this mechanism happen (think API tools, XML and script developer forums or CMS/middleware development communities). Once this mechanism is built—and this is key—the publication needs to maintain the mechanism’s flexible, open-source powered structure so that the service can be continually streamlined to meet users’ growing needs.
Nothing online is set in stone. In a year, web developers might have completely moved on to punchier and sleeker solutions such as CSS3 and HTML5 for some of their web development needs until some other collective improvement comes along to enhance web development even further. The root question that drives these changes will remain the same, however: How do we share information in the most efficient way possible, for developers and users?
If media companies, publications and journalists start thinking of their content as nodes in need of relevant connections to other content nodes online—or even better, think of accurate descriptive keywords and other data atoms composing their information—then this question will be much easier for them to answer.