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Key Content: Connectfulness
2006, Q3 (February 19, 2007)
By Bill Albing, Carolina Chapter Past President

Bill Albing
Bill Albing

Those of us developing and maintaining content recognize the value that content has for an organization. An important and increasingly overlooked aspect of communication is the way in which connections form both in the creation of that content and the delivery of that content. In order to emphasize this aspect, I have invented a word for it — "connectfulness." In the same way that the word "truthiness" is not a real word but is gaining usage in our culture, so the word "connectfulness" offers us in the professional arena a way to express an important aspect of our work. Just as truthiness says more than accuracy and is friendlier than truthfulness, so connectfulness says more than networked and is friendlier and more inclusive than connectedness.

For you to understand connectfulness, allow me to explain several types of connections that are involved with professional communication. There are connections between the pieces of content that are conveyed, both between the modules of content created by us and the modules created by others; there are the connections formed between those communicating, between originator and audience, between source and sink; there are connections between all of us participating in a Web — a Web that is becoming increasingly more a part of our work. All these aspects taken together motivate the idea of connectfulness.

In the development of content, much has been said about modularization. The move toward modularization would not be successful without the linking of those information modules. The advantage gained by moving toward normalized, independent modules of content has not only to do with the freedom to reuse those modules in more than one deliverable, but also, and I think more importantly, with the proper linking of those modules. By allowing your audience to find the information they need by being able to quickly navigate the content, often made possible by allowing them to click on related links, you are making full use of the modularization concept. Without connectfulness, modularization would be a bad idea.

Along with modularization, there is tagging or labeling of content that is allowing more connectfulness. Tag clouds are a fun thing to add to a web interface for a site that has a lot of content. Presenting something similar to a mind map, a tag cloud is simply a list of key words representative of the site's content where the words that have more links and associations appear bigger, or words that are clicked more often appear bigger, so that it represents a weighted factor about the site's content and is not simply a full-text index. This is just one example where connections improve the ability to retrieve content. The push toward using XML is a push partly to tag the content, to put it in containers that can meaningfully describe what is in them, much as Tupperware containers can be labeled, organized, stacked, and moved.

By allowing this labeled content to be more dynamically connected, there is a whole new level of connectfulness that is bringing about new ways of doing business. For example, there is more to blogging than simply expressing opinions; the real advantage to blogging is that content is tagged and thus can be searched and organized in a way that is not possible with static HTML. Sites like technorati.com and others now can provide instant searches of topics based on keywords that are more meaningful than a full-word search. With the intelligent tagging of the content (which blogging provides), communication can be more productive and yield more meaningful results. And the use of syndication (feeds) provides a similar advantage.

Syndication is not just for news agencies — it is a way to provide some tagging of content that you (or your company) can make available for others to aggregate and publish. Try to imagine updates to your product documentation in syndication so that owners of that product can read in their news aggregator if there is any product documentation updates.

As a linguist, you may cringe when you hear the word "social" being applied to such a virtual phenomenon as the Web. I agree that it is a positivist use of the word "social", but the word is being used to describe how we are connecting on the Web. It does show how connections are forming at a new level and one that is not possible with older implementations. With tagging and with XML, more connections are occurring and not always in predictable (or at least predicted) ways. I would speculate that beyond the connections that we form within our content deliverables and beyond the connections established between the syndicator of content and its consumers, there is also a broader way in which we, as professionals in particular and humans in general are connecting. While I don't know if product documentation will ever be self-organizing, I do think that content developers can be self-organizing, and we can improve how we develop not only the content but also the use of communication technologies to our advantage. Using XML and the Web are going to be necessary tools as our work becomes more "social", as syndicating and aggregating content becomes more a part of our work, as our communication involves more connectfulness. Until we get a grasp on this connectfulness, we will not have realized our full potential as communication professionals.

"Connectivism: A learning theory for today's learner." www.connectivism.ca

Bill can be contacted at bill dot albing at keycontent dot org. End of article.

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