Creating more fluid content requires migrating away from WYSIWYG-centric, word processor-emulating web publishing tools, and into systems that are more modular, platform-agnostic, and enriched with metadata. Better content management tools and robust APIs generate more portable data that’s better prepared for the future without being overly dependent on a specific technology.
Content portability ensures that the content can actually live and thrive in all platforms to which it gets distributed (even those that do not yet exist). —Daniel Jacobson
NPR’s COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere) system has become the poster child for next-generation content management systems because it separates content from presentation and as a result is able to reach a host of web, native, and display environments. While authors can still write markup, content gets stored by the CMS in a language-agnostic format. By avoiding storing “dirty” content (content that contains markup and presentation styles) and keeping everything modular, the content becomes more portable and can get served up in the format best suited for the particular context. Best of all, NPR doesn’t have to completely overhaul their system to account for whatever platforms are bound to emerge.
Striving toward clean, flexible data gives our products and services a better chance at being viable in the future, even if we find ourselves interacting with holograms and hover car dashboards ten years from now.
A progressive approach
“Content like water” overflows into web experience design and construction. People are accessing the web on an increasingly diverse range of devices and the fact is capabilities, form factors, and resolutions are not going to normalize.
And while gizmos will get faster and more powerful over time, the decreasing cost factor of Moore’s Law is in full effect and a new Zombie Apocalypse of inexpensive, “good-enough” web-enabled devices is upon us.
Technology pros know about Moore’s Law but often forget a critical aspect: it’s not just about increasing power, it’s also about decreasing cost. —Scott Jenson
Because the barrier to entry is so low (free OS and dirt-cheap hardware) we’re seeing a proliferation of cheap connected devices. So while iPad 5 will certainly be more capable than iPad 2, we need to consider a huge diversity in capabilities: the good, the bad, and everything in between. Because behind all these screens are people—people who want to interact, explore, learn, and enjoy.
It all starts with markup. Even the most heinous browsers can digest semantic markup. Authoring semantic HTML5 code opens doors to enhanced experiences (displaying the right virtual keyboard based on HTML5 input type is just a small example of what’s possible). Dealing with the inconsistencies of myriad devices reminds us that fundamental, clean, meaningful markup is one of the best ways to reach many platforms.
The device landscape is constantly changing. Capabilities are constantly changing. Properly structured content is portable to future platforms. —Stephen Hay
We’re finally realizing that the web isn’t a 960-pixel-wide box and are taking steps to return the web to its inherently fluid nature. Thankfully, responsive web design provides concrete techniques to accommodate multiple screen sizes while maintaining some level of control over layout and presentation. What’s perhaps more important, responsive design gives us a much-needed language with which to talk about designing beyond a single screen size and context.
Responsive web design isn’t a panacea for the diversity challenges we face (nor did it ever claim to be), but it’s an important step. We still have to tackle content hierarchy issues across contexts, source order, input methods, media, cross-context interface conventions, and much more.
Address context, exploit opportunities
While flexible layouts are extremely important, mobile and other emerging platforms are so much more than different screen sizes. Each context provides its own unique opportunities and limitations which require careful consideration. Providing universal access to content is incredibly important, but that doesn’t mean we should only serve one-size-fits-all experiences to all users.