The Future of Content The Future of Content Sep. 26th, 2019 Todd Ross Nienkerk
modular-content

The Future of Content

September 26th, 2019

I’ve been building websites for most of my life. I’ve been a writer, editor, and publisher. I love helping people create and share content — and I love talking with people about the future of content.

What’s next? Which new devices will transform how we experience content? And which new technologies and tools will help us share these experiences with others?

These questions have led me to draw some conclusions — you might even say, make some predictions — about where online content and content creation are headed. Here are a few of the most exciting things I expect to see over the next year or so.

Prediction: Content management systems will evolve into content repositories.  

In the early days of the web, content was fully tied to presentation. We used desktop publishers (e.g., FrontPage) to manage hard-coded files, and websites contained very little functionality.

Then came the content management system (CMS). Software like Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla combined content display (the front end) and content management (the back end). Soon, RSS and ATOM feeds enabled synchronization of content across sites. The arrival of smartphones and tablets ushered in the mobile revolution, changing our approach to frontend design. But the fundamental approach to content management remained the same: A backend CMS storing text, media, and user-generated content.

With time, web admins demanded more and more backend functionality, though. CMSs added user and layout management, permissions, and integrations, all configurable from a UI. These now-heavily-complex CMSs were more about managing your website (or commerce platform, fundraising campaign, or user community) than managing your content.

As new methods of content consumption — including new technology (e.g., touch, voice), apps, and channels (e.g., social media) — continued to proliferate, content creators scrambled to keep up. Unfortunately, we ended up with a lot of duplicated code, content, and effort. And audiences ended up with less-than-optimal user experience (UX).

Now, we’re seeing a shift to more agile architecture and content centralization. Decoupled and headless CMSs are breaking apart the front and back ends: centralizing content storage and enabling more flexibility — via APIs — in how and where that content is displayed.  The end result will be streamlined workflows for content creators and managers, and a better UX for users.

Furthermore, we’re seeing a new trend: CMSs targeted to verticals and specific use cases like media, entertainment, and publishing. These CMSs are able to focus on specific UXs and providing the optimal content delivery system for specific sets of users.

Prediction: Content will be modular.

As we move away from the website as primary online content experience, content creators are beginning to think “content first.” Deliver structured content; users’ apps or devices will handle the presentation. That means that creators’ primary focus will need to shift from WYSIWYG mode to content modeling: proper application of reusable fields and robust content types to support new delivery methods. (Drupal and WordPress are great at quickly adding new fields and content types.) 

For example, add a location field to support location-aware smartphones. Add a metadata field to video assets to optimize the UX on a variety of streaming platforms. Add a conversational field to enable text-to-speech conversion on Alexa or Google Assistant.

This modular view of content enables us to assemble chunks of content for use in a variety of experiences — not just device-specific contexts.

Prediction: Content creators will finally get the tools we deserve.

As Paragraphs in Drupal and the Gutenberg editor for WordPress — both of which reinforce a modular approach to content — demonstrate, new ways of thinking about content assembly are becoming more and more common. Hosted services like Gather Content and Contentful are competing to create better editorial experiences, outside of traditional CMSs. These “content hubs” focus on content workflows, campaign management, and content modeling.

CMSs are also getting more editor-friendly. DX8 from Cohesion, built on Drupal, aims to reduce the amount of development needed to produce great content and user experiences. (Acquia just acquired DX8.) Emulsify — which we built at Four Kitchens in 2017 and which now has almost 80,000 installs — enables teams to create design systems and then build CMS themes based on those systems.

The demand for tools that enable content creators and designers is enormous, and it doesn’t end with better workflows. Thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and the like, CMSs can now read, see, and hear your content. For example, Google is already introducing ML into many of its tools to improve search results, suggest responses, and automate tasks. (Read more of Four Kitchens’ thoughts on ML here and here.)

These are just of few of the trends that have been on my mind. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the rising popularity of augmented reality, as well as the segmentation and monetization of delivery channels like streaming video and audio. I’m excited to explore these topics with you over the next year — both on our blog and in our soon-to-be released podcast, The Future of Content, where I’ll speak with guests who will provide a diverse array of perspectives on the next big trends in content. And I’ll be talking about these and other ideas in my keynote at Cornell DrupalCamp later this week. 

Follow us on Twitter @FourKitchens to get the latest news, including event videos and our podcast launch. Here’s to the future!

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