HIST 698 Week 6

The Elements of Content Strategy. I’ve only read a few classmates’ blog posts pending the writing of my own, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who loved, loved, loved this book. After countless hours of pondering philosophical readings like “Does the historic profession have a future?” (first two weeks) and “If it does, what will that look like, especially when historians are engaging with a public audience?” (last two weeks), we’re given a short and practical guide to managing digital content as if we were public historians. Obviously I’m generalizing and hyping it up. I think Letting Go and previous readings were at least as practical as Elements is philosophical–if the two p-words even deserve separation. But I think you know what I mean. The lessons in Elements are fantastic and can be drawn out without heavy interpretation and extrapolation. Reading Elements is like cooking for years without electricity and then one day getting a bag of quality take-out for dinner. The subject is something in which everyone was interested before we knew what it was (or maybe you all knew what it was already, so please forgive my naive enthusiasm).

We all want to learn to manage and work with content, and we all practice, as students of history, the kinds of strategies Kissane lays out, and we do it already even without working with digital stuff. Whether it’s finding a better way to write the terrible topic sentence for this paragraph, or inventing an appealing design for a poster or power point presentation (based on your audience), or synthesizing a hundred pages of draft-notes into a coherent argument for a final paper, we all practice content strategy. Every history student knows that few things are more painful, yet satisfying, than a qualitative audit that disappears a beloved paragraph from your paper because, after careful analysis, you realize it doesn’t contribute to your topic sufficiently to justify its existence. I haven’t enjoyed what must be the glories of managing digital content, and maybe you haven’t either, but I know that we can think of plenty of public history websites that fail to avoid redundant (or inaccessible) documentation, provide a search engine that reasonably understands what a user wants, or an infinite number of other design problems that keep it from being a user-centered experience

To be fair, I think a majority of unsuccessful blogs suffer from one or more deficiencies in content strategy, too. Am I the only one who finds white text on a black background easier to read and concentrate on than the other way around?

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4 thoughts on “HIST 698 Week 6

  1. I think it’s interesting that you seem to imply (perhaps I’m wrong) that the historical editing process and the content strategy process are like and like. At the same time, several other blogs have asserted that these processes are different. I wonder if this will come up in class.

    I would say that a written paper would be close, but not necessarily the same, as much of the thesis process is pre-determined, compared to the much blanker slate of public consumption.

    When it comes to white-on-black, I’d agree with you, except when there are multiple shades of grey involved. The stronger and simpler the contrast is, the easier it is to focus. At least that’s what I think.

    • Hi James, thanks for your comment. Thank you for pointing out that I confused you. No, I don’t think that editing and content strategy are the same. I was musing that they involve some similar cognitive processes to suggest that history students ought to have a natural interest in content strategy and make natural candidates for training in the practice.

      It’s probably a reflection many other students have already assumed, and so when I point it out it might look like I’m saying something radical. I confess that I’d never heard of content strategy, so for me to state obvious things about it is just an attempt to understand it even better. I assure you as a neophyte I have nothing to say on the subject outside of the status quo–but if it sounds like I do, please point it out, and thank you again for your comment!

      Funny you mention the multiple shades of grey thing. I was actually prompted to ask the question about text color because of Kissane’s joke about dark grey text on a light grey field being a bad idea. I agree that contrast is important, whatever the colors.

  2. Your final question about white versus black text is an interesting one. I’d be curious to know the answer from a design standpoint. I have to say that since most electronic articles, reader apps, and most blogs in this class are black text on light backgrounds, I have to make a sight adjustment when I read this blog. I’m not suggesting it’s better or worse because I might be a sheep following the herd. Maybe there is some learning science that backs up the most ideal cognitive reading design.

    • Hi Erik, thanks for your comment. I too would like to hear an expert opinion on the matter. You have an excellent point that since black on white is the norm, it almost doesn’t matter if the reverse was theoretically better when everyone is not used to it.

      I paint a little as a hobby, and the few books I’ve read on color theory say that the human eye is drawn to the color white because it takes less effort to analyze that color. If that’s true, it seems to make more sense to write in white so your eyes aren’t constantly drawn to the background. White-background pages, I think, make it easier to “space out” and get distracted from the text. For my own sake, I hope I’m right, and someday we can all stop reading the web like a Gutenberg book.

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