Future of Content Round Table Review

A picture of the panel in the front of a crowded room, all people seated



On April 7, 2014, about 35 people braved a rainy, foggy Monday to attend The Future of Content Round Table: A Content Camp Preview Event put together by Content Camp Philly organizer David Dylan Thomas and hosted by Empathy Labs at 777 Appletree Street, Philadelphia PA.

The event was a panel-style talk with David acting as the moderator. The panel consisted of media professionals with varied experiences in the content creation and management area. The guests included:

Emily McManus, editor, TED.com

Sara Wachter-Boettcher, Editor-in-Chief at A list Apart. Author of Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content

Kristin Thomson, co-director of the Artist Revenue Streams Project at the Future of Music Coalition

Rashid Zakat, filmmaker, art director, and instructor at the Art Institute of Philadelphia

Laura Moorhead, former editor at Wired magazine and IDEO, a global design consultancy. Laura is currently a doctoral student in the Learning Sciences and Technology Design program at Stanford University in California.

Fighting through the fog of the Furture of Content

Fighting through the fog of the Future of Content

After pizza, beer and chips were served, David opened up the evening with a few words about Content Camp, which is to take place on Saturday, April 26, 2014 along side BarCamp News Innovation at Temple University’s Annenberg Hall. A $10 ticket gets the holder entrance to both Content Camp and BarCamp News Innovation. Lunch is included. The keynote speaker this year (keynote is given over lunch) is Amanda Zamora, the senior engagement editor at ProPublica.


David introduced the guests and threw out the first question, directed to Emily McManus.

How has TED used emotion to help users find TED.com content they want, and where do you see this going in the future?

Ms. McManus responded with background information on the design of the video rating system used at TED.com. “Thumbs up, thumbs down doesn’t work,” she said. “People don’t start out their night asking, ‘Do I want to go to a good restaurant or a bad restaurant?’” McManus said a better question for the site visitor to ask would be, “‘What kind of experiences do I want to have?’”

TED moved on to an emotional taxonomy. Instead of a 5-star rating scale populated by users, TED staff tagged each video with what sort of emotion it would elicit from the viewer. The viewer can choose videos based on the emotion they would like to be feeling at the end of watching the TED talk video. On the site, the pull-down menu for the video search has “ratings” like “funny,” “jaw-dropping,” and “beautiful.”

Out of 9 terms, “the least popular term is ‘informative,’” McManus added with an amused laugh. “[People] want to feel things about our content. … Playing on the emotional side has worked for us. It helps [viewers] feel ok about bonding with content.”

David asked warily if the software will get to the point where TED will be judging our current state of emotion by scanning the color of our clothes. That’s when our next panelist, author and editor Sara Wachter-Boettcher, jumped in.

What metadata is useful and how can we use it to deliver content that individual users want?

“There are going to be apps where we’ll be looking at personal data about [users]. What kind of metadata will have to be available to make those matches [of users with content]?” Sara went on to mention that sites like last.fm have implemented algorithms to match people with content, but the overwhelming majority of sites still have “crappy data” on their content and who seeks it out.

“[The site producers] just end up with another taxonomy,” Wachter-Boettcher said. “You want to be uplifted? This video has ‘uplifted’ in the tags. You want to go beyond this.”

In response, McManus admitted that currently the TED site cannot hide this particular metadata and that they are reconsidering the site design, perhaps hiding tags and other metadata from the user in efforts to get the content’s purpose portrayed to the user more meaningfully and quickly. “One of our biggest questions is ‘How do we reflect the mood of each talk [in the written description attached]?”

“Complexity in using the data,” Wachter-Boettcher added. “A big part of the future of content is this complexity of use.”

This question of how to efficiently connect people with content became a grounding theme in the conversation. Collecting data on users leads to issues with transparency. Ultimately, this is all in pursuit of a good bottom line. Sites are “… talking about what to invest in,” Wachter-Boettcher added. “Micro metadata [on users] may be a waste of time.”

Kristin Thomson, of the Artist Revenue Streams Project, said. “On the music side, a lot of the streaming services do a terrible job with this. There’s no way to look for Bill Evans and find out he played with John Coltrane. Plenty of opportunity for discovery there.”

“All that info maps in your head,” Wachter-Boettcher said. Programs like MusicBrainz (an open-source music encyclopedia) try to organize content in these types of maps but it is proving to be a very difficult task. “[They] tried to match the way [people] structure this information, like how people think about music,” she said. “That’s hard to do.”

Who gets to write history (or metadata)?

Laura Moorhead works with high school students in California as a part of her graduate work at Stanford. She started out with a question for the students: “Who gets to write history?” Her program takes the students deep into open access materials, archives, public domain information, etc., and tasks them with writing text books from scratch using the materials. But she observed an interesting reaction from the students. They would look through an entire collection of propaganda photos and then construct videos using the still images, but they “didn’t necessarily bring in the deeper things,” Moorhead said. “They were just looking for what would go viral.”

McManus said she saw a similar trend. TED figured out that they needed an “18-minute content delivery system.” That was the length of time, it seemed, when authority seems the most solid and reliable. TED also tells its speakers to “be sage on stage.” They are instructed to bring something new, to break up the ordinary and expected.

a pic of adults standing in a room, chatting with each other

A chance to chat with the panelists after the talk

Moorhead said that in her editing days, content producers were encouraged to simplify. But with her student history project, she was trying to relay to the students that “history is messy.” She continued, “And to do it justice you need to keep it messy, but textbook projects lend to more strict interpretation.” The students going for the viral videos weren’t looking for deep interpretation. They were looking for their moment of fame.

David said content producers need to decide whether or not they are trying to sell something or say something. He pointed the next question to Rashid Zakat, instructor at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

“I do editing for money,” Zakat said. For fun and creativity, he’s been keeping his attention on Interlude, a “video version of choose-your-own-adventure stories.” He says Interlude teaches producers how to tell stories with many different angles, perspectives and even story lines. In contrast to the viral obsession Moorhead was seeing, Zakat said he is noticing that art for art’s sake is coming out of the hidden areas of the culture, like the emergence of independently-produced black cinema. With a lot of today’s web tools like Interlude, said Zakat, “You can make films a lot cheaper, and people aren’t following the traditional story arcs.” This ability to write and portray one’s own history and still retain ultimate control over the result will prove to be deeply relevant to the metadata/tracking/storytelling space.

Equal access to content vs. filtering data for users

Wachter-Boettcher said that the problem isn’t the equal access to content. The problem lies in the false assumption that hosts make about what users want. Much like Moorhead’s history textbook question, Wachter-Boettcher asks, who gets to decide which people get access to which content? “There is all this effort … people assume how people want to consume content,” she said. This is a fatal mistake. Users want what they want when they want it. They don’t want to run into limited access on their device, or based on their location. “You’ll frustrate some people.” The ways of access to content will just get more diverse.

The conversation went on, covering topics like journalism, community, paid content and what people are paying for these days, mash-ups, added value for sites, the banner ad system and if it will sustain the Web, intellectual property rights and more. The panelists took questions from the audience about a wide-range of topics, like college admissions procedures and traditional book publishing.

Feel like you missed an intriguing session chocked full of information and relevant answers for your business? You did, but no worries! Make sure to come to Content Camp on April 26! We’ll be serving up a lot more great information from content experts. Don’t miss it.

a pic of woman's feet and a man's feet, both people wearing red shoes

The Panelists with The Two Red Shoes

Here are more detailed notes on the event by our friend Riley at simplpost










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