Content Insights Blog

Smart, Tough, + Kind

posted by Colleen Jones

Over the past 2 months, I’ve trekked here, there, and everywhere to speak about digital content strategy and planning. Amazing? Yes. I wish I could box up each and every experience and share it with you. But that’s the funny thing about events. You really do have to be there.

Instead, I’d like to share tidbits of my impressions, images, and insights.


webmaster-forum(2)As you can tell from the name, this annual event is historic. It started when the term “webmaster” became en vogue. (I had the nostalgic title in 2001 at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Feel the digital power!) The forum’s distinguished past includes keynotes from experts such as Jared Spool. When Creative Director Doug Burgett invited me to keynote the forum on behalf of its organizing committee, I basically asked, “Are you sure? I really am going to talk about digital content strategy, not development or design.” To his credit, Doug didn’t hesitate, and the event broke their attendance record. Yes, Doug said the forum enjoyed the highest attendance in their entire history. Content matters to higher education.

At the forum, the attendees didn’t miss a beat during the keynote. Everyone laughed at Star Wars references and managed not to cry as they shared their content challenges across web, social, and mobile. As kind as the forum-goers were, they didn’t spare me tough questions at the end. It’s only fair. I love tough questions because they’re a sign that people really are trying to implement content strategy.

After the keynote, a diverse roundup of web professionals from the university system presented about everything from accessible content to dynamic campus maps to digital signage. Content really is going everywhere.

(Note to every university system in the United Stateswhy don’t you have a forum like this?!)


When a group of content strategists invited me to talk content, my curiosity peaked.  I’ll share more details in a post that’s going through the proper reviews, but I can say this. Content is the new currency.


jan_jursaIt’s an exciting time to do content strategy. That was clear at German Information Architecture (IA) Summit in Essen, Germany. Managing Director Jan Jursa invited me to deliver the opening keynote for this year’s theme of content strategy. Delighted, I shared my philosophy on content strategy and encouraged everyone there to explore other philosophies, too. Along the way, I introduced the basics and advanced topics in the universal language of…Star Wars. (Jan was even a good enough sport to serve as a Jedi Master.)

The remaining two days brought together a mix of case studies and panels exploring content work and its relationship to information architecture. Margot Bloomstein led a buzzed-about workshop, too. I expected German digital strategists to be smart, but I was impressed with how far they’re assimilating content work into their organizations and their processes.

To close, veteran Peter Morville (author of not one but three O’Reilly books) reminded us that it’s an exciting time to do IA, as well. The word “authentic” is overused today, but Peter Morville is authentic with a capital A. He does every aspect of IA and then some. Afterward, Iclimbed over people so I could was fortunate enough to sit by him at dinner. While we all sampled a local delicacy of white asparagus, he indulged my questions with priceless “war stories” from planning information architecture for large, thorny organizations with many channels and touchpoints.


This second annual content strategy conference in Minneapolis sold out quickly, so being invited to speak here also was an honor. Masterminded by Kristina Halvorson and Erik Westra, this conference treats speakers and attendees especially well. If we, as a field of practice, don’t treat ourselves with respect, how can we expect anyone outside of it to do so?

For a smart summary of my presentation, check out this post.  The conference covered structured content in depth, with two fantastic keynotes devoted to the topic. (Check out the handy roundup of Confab posts for keynote summaries.) So, I was thrilled when a pioneer of structured content, Rachel Lovinger, generously signed my copy of her incisive Nimble Report. (I hope she writes a book and signs that, too!)

I was particularly pleased that people also talked about topics like these:

  • Visual communication, as discussed by Dan Roam
  • Content evaluation (testing, research, analytics), as explored by Daniel Eizens, Lou Rosenfeld, and a bit by me
  • ROI of content work, as discussed by Ann Rockley and Melissa Rach
  • Search engine optimization, as explained by Melanie Phung
  • Accessibility, as tackled by Irene Walker
  • Digital humanities, as mused on by Erin Kissane

I was particularly disappointed that Lou Rosenfeld opted not to wear heels. And, like many attendees, I wish I could have cloned myself to catch all sessions, especially those by NPR’s Matt Thompson and communications consultant Diana Railton. Fortunately, the event size affords plenty of networking with all speakers and attendees.


As the lead summit organizer, Paul Mueller kindly invited me to speak about content strategy and planning. As the event approached, I noticed that technical communication has become almost synonymous with structured content in content strategy circles. While important, I hope structured content doesn’t overshadow everything else that technical communication offers. For example, many of the editorial principles and techniques in our repository come from technical communication. My session explored how technical communicators can apply all aspects of their expertise in new ways. While I’m not sharing the slides from most of my sessions this spring, I decided to share these:

During questions and discussion, we talked about ways to align technical documentation with marketing. Yes! It’s an exciting time to do technical communication.

I had to leave the conference unexpectedly early due to illness, but I hear the sessions by Rahel Bailie, Karen McGrane, Joe Sokohl, and Scott Abel, among others, did not disappoint.

So, there it is, a smattering of my past two months. Onward and upward!

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