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Branding Microcontent

Well here I am blogging in my pyjamas. Not literally, but metaphorically. Chillin’.
Taking stock. Thinking about goals for next year. I’ve also been thinking about my Design for Data theory and
while I’ve been doing that, a few posts elsewhere have attracted my attention…

First a “in a nutshell” re-cap of what Design for Data means to

– Living Data; content is alive!

– Momentum: it’s about movement of data/content (in time); not places where data/content

– it’s about the user being in control of their webfeeds

– DYI websites for the users

– the application of weblike design to data

– Information Flow

– Rip, Mix n’ Burn; Re-using content

That’s not a complete picture, but I’m getting there.

Branding and Web Experiences

Digital Web Magazine published an article last week entitled The End of
Usability Culture, Redux
. It argues that web design is about creating effective “web
experiences” and one way to do this is to focus on branding more so than usability
guidelines (especially from the much-maligned Jakob Nielsen). The author, Dirk Knemeyer,
cites Starbucks as “the perfect model” for what he’s talking about:

“Starbucks leveraged all of the traditional approaches for international franchised
brand success that old generation companies like McDonald’s mastered, then took it
to the next level by replacing the idea of a commodity product with one of premium

The role of the web designer then would be to create this compelling user experience.
As Dirk puts it: “design is about creating for people.”

While it’s an excellent article, it seems to me that Web Designers are still fixated
on the idea of website as ‘container’ for the content. Branding to a Web Designer is
still largely a visual exercise. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,
because the Web as a ‘place’ won’t be disappearing anytime soon. 

However I also think RSS flow is creating a need for the data itself to be
‘designed’, not into HTML containers but into chunks of branded microcontent that will
probably be XML. What I mean is: the data may not end up as HTML, so we have to figure
out how to “brand” our data.

Associated Press & Atomized Content

Another excellent article recently was a speech by Tom
, head honcho of AP (Associated Press). There were a lot of great insights in
this speech and one of the main ones was this:

“…content will be more important than its container in this next phase [of the

He talks about unlocking content from those containers and “consumption on demand”
will drive this – in other words, the user is in control. Words such as “disintermediate”
and “reaggregate” are thrown into the mix. This is what he says about branding:

“The implications for content providers are enormous. You cannot control the
“containers” anymore. You have to let the content flow where the users want it to go, and
attach your brand — and maybe advertising and e-commerce — to those free-flowing

The Associated Press, in this context, might end up “branding” facts such as sports
polls or rankings, not just stories and photos; The LA Times and other newspapers will
have to compete for eyeballs well beyond the boundaries of their published front pages
and Web sites.”

Curley doesn’t actually say how we’re supposed to brand what he calls “atomized
content”, but he does say that RSS and search are two of the main ingredients.

Gillmor Gang & eBay

I also listened to an interesting edition of The Gillmor
(a regular podcast from the likes of Steve Gillmor, Jon Udell and Doc Searls). They interviewed my namesake Jeffrey McManus, who is a technical
evangelist at eBay. Steve Gillmor was giving Jeffrey a grilling about RSS and
“disintermediation” and so forth, and in response Jeffrey noted this about the eBay

“…at the end of the day, that’s why people come to eBay – is to have a great

In other words, the website is still the place where users go for the eBay

Steve continued to press the matter, asking “what can’t be done via api’s
[meaning off-site]”. The object of the question being to find out if the eBay website was
really necessary for users to do business with eBay. To which Jeffrey replied: sign-up,
registration; bidding can’t be done off-site [nb: I took rough notes only, so the quotes
may be slightly off].

And Jeffrey later said: “It’s our job to make eBay a compelling place to buy and sell

So what do I take from all that? Well it seems one of Web 2.0’s leading companies
still regards “place” (ie their website) as a critical part of their business model. That
will please the web designers. Whether that will be the case in 5-10 years time is
another matter…

Whither Design for Data?

I’ll leave you with an Eric Rice post
from today where he notes that his RSS traffic just passed his HTML views. My comment on
that is: I don’t think the RSS model is going to replace the HTML one. RSS and
HTML do two different jobs. Currently it’s true that branding via HTML is still the way
to do business on the Web. Mainly because nobody has figured out how to effectively brand
via RSS yet. And that’s a business opportunity for Web 2.0. 

One company to watch in this space is FeedBurner. I think they’re onto something
important with their RSS feed services (such as splicing and stats).

now, as one of Eric’s commenters notes, branding is still largely visual:

[from Mike D]”I don’t know that you can really brand yourself through RSS. Visual
stimulation is oh-so important to generating and keeping interest.”

OK, but mark my words: soon there will be ways to brand yourself in RSS. It’s being
invented right now by smart companies like Feedburner.


Oh man, so much for blogging in my pyjamas! That was a bit full-on. If it’s any
consolation, it’s now way past my bedtime 🙂 Almost time for me to get up in fact!

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