There is a chasm between those who create content and those who consume it. The Web allows us to bridge that chasm.
I once knew the editor of one of the world's most prestigious magazines. He told me how over the years the magazine had invested millions of dollars and countless hours in trying to understand exactly what was read in each issue.
They came up with all sorts of convoluted formulas, but they ended up throwing all of them out. The decisions on what got published remained an art. It rested on the shoulders of those with many years of experience and a keen understanding of their readers.
But these brilliant editors still felt pangs of doubt and uncertainty. They often learned anecdotally that a story deep in the magazine, gained far more interest than the story they decided to lead with.
With the Web, it has become much easier to find out which content is working and which content isn't. This will have a dramatic impact on the professional lives of those who produce content.
For too long, the producers of content have been divorced from the consumers of content. Marketing people have created product descriptions without knowing if customers actually understood or reacted positively to what they wrote. Human resource professionals have written policies without knowing if staff actually understood the policy after reading it.
This chasm between the producers of content and the consumers of content has led to huge quantities of marketing waffle and unintelligible policies. Thousands of people today are involved in creating content that is not just useless; it's counter-productive and a tremendous drain on time and efficiency.
Until the Web came along we never had a way to identify the useless content. How do we do this? For starters, it is now cheap to ask customers to complete top tasks on the website. The best results are achieved if the customer is at home or in their office, and we are conducting the test remotely. (There's lots of cheap, quality software to capture their voice and screen movements. We use GoToMeeting.)
Web content exists within the context of a task; something the customer wishes to do. By measuring the ability of the customer to quickly and easily complete the task, we measure the quality of the content. Because the better the content the faster and easier the task will be completed.
We can also have rating systems imbedded in our webpages that allow customers to rate the quality of the page. If our content is more news-oriented then we can track how much it has been viewed; whether it is being blogged about; how much it is being linked to; how much it has been tweeted.
As content creators we have lived in a vacuum too long. It will be scary, certainly, to find out whether what we write is actually useful or not. But it's hugely exciting too. We can now figure out what works and do more of it, and figure out what doesn't work and stop doing it.