“Content” is here to stay

I read Tim Bray’s piece about the word content, and I agree. It betrays a point of view. If you’re a writer, and someone refers to your work as “content” — well that’s like telling a painter his work is wall-covering. Yes technically, it’s accurate — your painting does cover the wall, Mr Rembrandt and Ms O’Keeffe. But there’s also the inspiration. The joy. The dread, the lessons learned, the life lived, the gains and losses. The feeling. All that can be used to cover a wall, or provide a surface for ads to run. But calling it wall-covering doesn’t capture its fullness.

Yet there are times when you have to think of a painting as wall-covering — if you’re implementing a wall management system, and you need to account for people hanging all kinds of content on it, paintings, frescoes, posters, quilts, light — incandescent and candles. Even chairs are wall-covering of a sort. Chandeliers, while they don’t hang on a wall do provide light. Viewed that way all art is a wall-covering. It’s the engineering view, while it does subtract the art from the art, it’s a valid and useful point of view too.

I’ve spent a good part of my career working on Content Management software, and I’m also a writer, so I see it from both sides. Should I say the C in CMS stands for Creativity? Does that help you understand what it does, or make writers feel better for producing fungible slurry of ad-supporting letters, numbers and punctuation? It doesn’t mean a thing to this writer.

There is lots of duality in human language. There’s the mother who is also a sister and a daughter. A car that is both a method of transportation and a source of revenue for mechanics and car dealers.

So in some contexts, my writing is art. And in others, it’s content.

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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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