posted 31 May 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 8
Are your organisation’s online products and services just a little too bulky? Take a look at iTunes for inspiration.
By Lynda Rathbone
Just over two years ago I bought my first Apple iPod. As a web geek and music lover, I knew I was a late adopter, but I had no compelling reason to jump on the bandwagon any earlier. But since that time, I must confess it has completely changed the way I listen to music and become an essential gadget in my everyday life.
That was to be expected, but what I didn’t count on was how it’s changed the way I buy music. As a hard core vinyl junkie, and someone who took days to lovingly transfer all my CDs from their bulky cases to CD books, organised by genre and year (complete with artwork and sleeve notes) this was very unexpected. I loved having a physical product from which to play my music. But this is no longer the case.
Just as no one ever uses all the features in Microsoft Word, I rarely like every song on a CD – who does? Well, thanks to iTunes (and other music download services), you can listen to a short clip of each track, just buy the tracks you want to listen to and away you go. I actually haven’t bought a CD in almost a year now.
So what’s my point? The way people are consuming content online – be it music or anything else – is changing. The try-before-you-buy mentality and partitioning of content into bite-size chunks is becoming pervasive. Why not take a page from this book and apply it to your content?
Quite a few organisations offer documents for download or purchase and I’d guess that most are in PDF file formats. But at the moment, users have only one choice – get the entire file based on a short title and description and, perhaps, a table of contents. Do your users really need the whole thing? Would they be better served by breaking it down into bite-size chunks as well as offering the entire thing?
I’m currently working with an organisation with a large publications library that users can either download or order as hard copies. Each has a title, short description and is put under a pre-defined category. Problems arise when a publication cuts across several categories and contains information that many users in each would find useful, but because of the way it is published its description makes it seem specific to only one audience.
For example, say the document is primarily about how an organisation could save energy if it had large, industrial lighting systems. However, because the document was initially created to address a specific industry’s needs – say, leisure centres – the document is titled and described so it looks like it’s only relevant to that audience.
If it was to adopt the iTunes mentality and break that document down into bite-sized chunks, each chunk could be described separately to address the needs of many different audiences (lighting systems, energy saving and so on) while still preserving the original publication for download. This would help users access just what they need and also save them hassle in letting them download just a part of the document to see if it is actually useful.
And this can obviously extend to other digital assets on your site – internet or intranet. Any website offering audio and/or video clips of content, such as training or product guides, knows that they are often cumbersome for users to download and view in their entirety. Furthermore, they often contain little, if any, useful metadata or descriptions to see if it’s what they are looking for before beginning to download. So why not cut longer clips into ‘bites’ so they are easier to use and promote across the site? Online courses and some training is often done this way using chapters and it’s much more useful than an entire file-download to view at one time.
Now, I know you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Wow, that would be a lot of work’. The organisation I mentioned earlier has more than 400 active publications and to chop these into bite-size chunks would take time.
But using site-reporting tools and the metrics available on the most popular publications or downloads on your web or intranet site can enable you to ‘chunk’ the top 20 or 30 documents. Then, by examining search data you can start identifying those ‘sleeper’ publications containing information people are looking for, but are not able to find due to labelling or categorisation issues.
And, taking this one step further, once content has broken free of the big download file-format, it could be used across the site to enhance sections and tempt users to get the full document. In addition, depending on the nature of the content, it could be offered via RSS [really simple syndication] or pushed to users via e-mail in an, ‘If you found that useful, you may also want to sign up to receive the next chapter’ when it is released. Users will be more inclined to read a short document or a series of short documents compared to one large 28-pager.
Finally, what about the return on investment for doing something like this? Well, aside from the increased number of downloads, an increase in the accessibility to knowledge comes to mind. For instance, in your organisation you may have experts on particular subjects who do research or author publications that they package up and exchange externally with others who need to receive it in a specific format.
Fine, but on the company intranet those documents may not be housed in the most appropriate format. Taking the extra time to break that content into bites may open it up to a whole new audience, increasing the accessibility of information and preventing employees from duplicating effort and ringing around the organisation to figure out what’s available.
While music was ready-packaged for this type of offering (since it’s already broken down into individual tracks) breaking up your organisation’s content into bites certainly seems like something to think about if you’re faced with a publications section or shared-network drive of documents that you know are useful but simply aren’t, well, useful in their current state.
As always, I’d love to hear from you on this or any subject. E-mail me at email@example.com