The times they are a-changing

This is going to be one of those ‘when I were a lad’ style posts :)

Back when I first started doing this webby thing, in the days when even IE6 was a distant dream (well a couple of years away anyhow) and FrontPage was the (*cough*) ‘CMS’ of choice most in-house web folk found themselves either working for the IT team or, as was my case, dropped into a traditional print Publications team. Here you were dismissed as the poor relation to the important work they did and anyway the web was a fad and would soon go away :)

To be honest I was quite lucky in these early days – I was mainly left alone to do whatever I felt best, as long as it didn’t cost much (i.e. anything!) and for the most part I had management who while clueless about the web and the opportunities it offered at least had an inkling that *something* was changing.

Print was always the priority though – the culture of thinking just sticking a PDf version of the print design up on the web was OK started early and is only really now starting to be challenged. Visual Guidelines were produced where digital was an after-thought at best, Editorial Styleguides were published with little idea about writing for the web and logos were designed with no concept of how they would look in a browser. Authors and Editors were employed to ensure printed copy was professional and precise. Web copy was the domain of whoever was willing and available.

To be honest alot of this is still true in *some* organisations to *some* extent. Recent-ish annoyances for me is new logos that are created with no thought of whether they will work as ‘profile pics’ on social sites and new corporate fonts selected without checking if they are available to use via @font-face (or even work well on screen.)

The thing is, as the title says, the ‘times they are a-changing’. At least they are here in the public sector. The ConDems have implementing strict new rules on spending for Communications & Marketing and one of the big casualties has been print publications. This has strengthened the ‘digital by default’ movement (if I can call it that!) and increasingly the primary channel for just about all content is online.

This isn’t without challenges, especially given the limitations of some of the technologies people are saddled with, but it also opens up real opportunities.

I find myself having (almost) come full circle with the possibility of the in-house Publications team moving into my team with the digital agenda leading the way and print becoming a luxury add-on rather than a focus. I’ve already been asked to look at seeing if the ideas about content strategy I have been learning from Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane (and others) could help provide a content strategy across channels, whether it be the corporate website, the social web or print material (or anything else I guess).

It certainly could make things interesting and I’m not without ideas about how to make *paper* fit into my digital plans. I think that the popularity of things like Newspaper Club shows that people still appreciate something ‘real’ as well as the ongoing popularity of things like Lulu. That said I still have an interest in investigating different modes of ‘digital publishing‘ – particularly for eReaders, smartphones and Tablets. Now I just need time to actually do these things!

4 comments

  1. Nice post, Matt. Look forward to hearing more about your digital agenda, with print as an afterthought. Totally agree that there is still a need for something ‘real’, though it has to look really good these days – no more room for dull, text-heavy booklets.

    Do you see any links between what you are doing and the broader online movement in science – like the Beyond the PDF guys?
    (see this from Martin Fenner http://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/2011/01/23/beyond-the-pdf-%E2%80%A6-is-epub/ )

  2. I have followed some of the Scholarly HTML stuff via Cameron and Peter M-R which I think came out of the Beyond the PDF stuff. I have some concerns about ePub as a standard so I like the push towards HTML and essentially microformats/RDFa..

    I think there is still alot that can be done with print either as a (lightweight) pointer to deeper content online or as something ‘special’..

  3. Would like to pick your brains on this Matt. I inherited a publications team not too long ago myself, and we run a framework contract for warehousing and distribution which is coming up for retender soon. Am meeting some dudes at COI in a few weeks to talk about procuring something more digitally led for future use across govt. Not an area I know much about – so your thoughts on it would be greatly appreciated. Any trips to London coming up? Will shout you a coffee or pint.

  4. Neil – would be good to chat (I’ve also been interested in things like MagCloud which could potentially remove the need for warehousing etc).

    I’m in London most Wednesdays – in fact I’m at BIS HQ this Wednesday with members of your team before heading to the AlphaGov thing!

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