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Confab 2012: Content grows up and gets structured

It has been a couple of weeks since I attended Confab 2012 in Minneapolis. Like last year, it has taken a while for me to digest all of the goodness of the trip and to review my notes with a fresh set of eyes.

It was fantastic to catch up with a number of friends I made at Confab 2011, plus make a few new ones along the way. There was a positive buzz in the air that started on the weekend as everyone started arriving from around the world, and which lasted right until the very end.

This year the conference was slightly bigger (around 600 people I think) and had more technical topics to choose from. The flavour of the month was definitely structured content, with a number of presenters talking about how it will influence our roles both now and into the future.

Here are my notes and observations from the trip (excuse the longer than normal post):

Lightning Talks

Picture of me pointing to the sign outside the main ballroom at Confab.

Ready for my Lightning Talk!

A few weeks before I left I found out I was one of the lucky people chosen to do a Lightning Talk. My topic was Waving goodbye to WYSIWYG – what structured content will mean for authors. The key point I wanted to make was that content authors are often overlooked when there are changes to technology. You can see my presentation on SlideShare. Ahava Leibtag (who did a fantastic Lightning Talk on governance) pulled together a Storify page of the Confab Lightning Talks too.

Taxonomy workshop

Workshops were held before the main conference started and I was really excited when I saw Seth Earley was going to hold one on taxonomy. I think being able to define a taxonomy for a business is a really important skill for a content strategist to have, and one that I needed to expand on.

The workshop was excellent and a lot to absorb in one day. We covered so much, and happily most of my questions were answered throughout the session. The key takeaway: Taxonomy is not navigation.

Presentation highlights

Some of the time slots had two (or more) sessions that were hard to choose between. Coming from Australia, I don’t get the opportunity to see some of the speakers as readily as others. So for me, I had to balance the topics I wanted to listen to with the people I wanted to see present in person.

I ended up going to:

  • Content modelling with Cleve Gibbon – Cleve talked about defining a content architecture. Loved the discussion around content management and how we “suffer from massive doses of accidental complexity”. So true.
  • Localisation with Lise Janody – Localisation is one area I haven’t explored that much, so to listen to Lise and her perspective was really interesting. The point that resonated with me (talking about the fact that a large percentage of people around the world speak English so why worry about translating or localising): Ability is not preference. Getting the gist is not getting the details. Access is not transaction (they won’t buy).
  • Communication strategy with Diana Railton – I have been following Diana on Twitter for ages, so it was really good to hear her speak in person about how content strategy fits with communication strategy, especially for larger organisations.
  • The UX perfect storm with Jared Spool – Jared is a fantastic presenter, and his talk covered how we must try to delight our users while still maintaining their basic expectations.
  • Voice and tone with Kate Kiefer Lee – As I do a lot of style guide and brand personality work, I was super excited to hear what Kate had to say. Her Mailchimp voice and tone website is a site I often show clients as an example of how to do it right. Needless to say, Kate didn’t disappoint and I was happy she provided some good tips on where to start and what to focus on.
  • Cognition and context with Daniel Eizans – Daniel explored how context needs to be applied to content – a topic I find fascinating. His article for Contents Magazine is equally excellent.
  • Erin Kissane talked innovation – Erin is acutely smart. In a good way of course. Her observations about new writing, new reading and new information highlighted where (and what) content could be now and in the future.
  • The final say on structured content with Karen McGrane – Karen’s closing keynote focused on structured content, which was an appropriate topic given the number of presentations on content modelling, taxonomy and content management during the conference. She highlighted we need to a) start writing for the chunk, not the page b) demystify metadata and c) develop better CMS tools, processes and workflow (“Most CMSs look like a database got drunk and vomited all over the screen”). I’ve just booked a ticket to Karen’s workshop in Sydney as part of Web Directions South, so am looking forward to hearing more insight from Karen on this topic.

Tim Tam Slams

Empty Tim Tam packets

The Tim Tams didn’t stand a chance

I had promised a couple of friends that I’d bring some Tim Tams with me to America. Tim Tams are a popular Australian chocolate biscuit (cookie) which are delicious on their own, or you can try a Tim Tam Slam where you use them as a straw with a cup of tea or coffee. Rachel Lovinger was kind enough to capture our best efforts and upload them to Flickr.

Hello Nashville

Since I had already travelled half way around the world, I figured I’d do another side trip like I did last year. This time I went to Nashville to attend the post Confab debrief at the local content strategy meetup – a group that Laura Creekmore organises. Laura was also gracious enough to show me around her city in the short amount of time I was there. It was fabulous and a lovely finale to my trip.

Will I go next year?

The dates have already been announced for Confab 2013. I’ve put them in the diary but also have some other conferences I’d like to check out, including Intelligent Content which will be in San Francisco in February. Decisions, decisions….

This post was written by Sally Bagshaw

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