"We have to know about our customers better because by 2012, it's likely that 75% of the content we interact with will be delivered to us based on what is known about us." says Whit Andrews, Vice President of Enterprise Search at Gartner.

"We're All Publishers Now"

Andrews opened day two of the MarkLogic User Conference with a humorous story about how he struggled to use a GPS device to find the conference hotel.

His example was designed to illustrate the problems consumers have getting the right content, in the right format, at the right time -- something many readers of this blog fully understand.

Too Much Searching, Not Enough Finding

His session was loaded with statistics derived from Gartner research, as well as lots of notable quotes. The gist of his message: People spend too much time searching for, but not locating, relevant content. It's a big waste of time. And, it doesn't have to be that way.

Andrews is a component content management evangelist (as am I). He believes that to deliver relevant content -- and meet the changing needs of end-users -- we must be able to repurpose, recombine, remix content to produce, dynamically, the information our users need, on-demand, when they need it. New tools, techniques, standards, approaches will need to be harnessed to make this a reality.

But, in the current economic climate, we should expect organizations to adopt strategies that help them efficiently leverage all of their content -- text, video, audio, images, etc. -- in ways that are helpful to the end-user content consumer. This approach will lead to drastically improved customer satisfaction and trust, and, for marketing professionals, far better conversion rates.

He used an interesting analogy -- beads -- to help the audience understand how content components can be swapped out to meet the needs of our customers. It seemed to work, as many folks in the audience were nodding their heads in agreement.

Providing the Right Content in Meaningful Ways

"We are at the tipping point with DITA, RSS, XML, Atom." It's possible to provide the right content in meaningful ways, Andrews said.

Some of the predictions were right on target, as far as I am concerned, but I'd imagine the drastic changes that are predicted are very scary for many knowledge workers. Consider this quote:

"By 2013, more than 25% of documents workers see will be dominated by non-textual content," Andrews proclaimed.

It makes perfect sense. Consumers love video, especially for topic-based content like procedures (how-to instructions) traditionally encapsulated in technical documentation (user-guides, online help, etc.). The technology and standards are available. We're already able to create components of video content and wrap it in DITA and deliver those components on demand as video documentation.

The Hostile Information Ecosystem

Andrews talked briefly about what he calls, the Hostile Information Ecosystem. The idea behind this concept is that we can’t trust anybody in the searching world — we don’t know that the content they are providing us is legit. And, because we've had terrible searching experiences in the past, we don't trust that the mechanisms for calculating content relevancy are going to provide us with a good experience.

But, it doesn't have to be this way -- and, if Andrews is correct -- delivering relevant componetized content is going to be norm in the near future, as well as a strategic advantage and a competitive differentiator.

"We have to know about our customers better," Andrews said. "Because by 2012, it's likely that 75% of the content we interact with will be delivered to us based on what is known about us."

The Wisdom of Context

It's not enough for us to force our customers to rely on search alone. We need to have search help us find information we need based on what is known about us. We need search to be our friend and to know us the way our friends do.

Of course, he's talking about dynamic personalized content, delivered, regardless of where you are, on whatever device you need it, where you need it, and how you need it. Sounds like a pipe dream, but it's not. Some organizations are doing it already.

"Search can work perfectly when it relies on the 'wisdom of context'," the deep, relevant knowledge that friends know about us, Andrews said to close out his session. I believe, he's right.

Keep track of Andrews' thoughts via his blog. If you're looking at a purchase decision, we recommend  CMS Watch's Component Content Management Report.