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Life, the Universe (of Data) and Everything

Looking at content writing, SEO and human-to-human marketing from the perspective of making the Web a better place

The Web is a spectacular place, created out of words, links and entity relationships. The deeper we can look into how they work together, the richer the digital identities we weave will be.

My favorite vantage point from which to contemplate content writing, SEO and human-to-human marketing is the movie Hyperland – a documentary film about hypertext and its surrounding technologies, written by Douglas Adams for BBC in the late 1990s.

Describing and predicting an approximation of the current state of the World Wide Web, the movie introduces us to Tom, a software agent, who, in his own words is “working tirelessly for you … [and] can provide access to any piece of information stored digitally anywhere in the world … for your interactive pleasure …

In Tom’s words there are three goals we, as digital marketers and people working to create better content, websites and ultimately, user experiences, need to aim for when weaving a successful digital identity. First, we want to help machines (and software agents like Tom) work tirelessly on our (and our audience’s) behalf, next, we want to have our information easily found and accessed, and finally, we need to ensure our audiences are happily connecting with the digital product, service or experience we have crafted.

Meeting these three goals might sound like aiming to understand Life, the Universe and Everything, instead of just jotting down a web copy, marking it up a bit, taking care of the website’s speed and meta descriptions and putting some appealing design within the app related to the project. Yet this is not the case.

I wrote about the context of the semantic data layer within the Web and its ethical side, in my essay, Towards a Semantic Web Ethos. It deals with understanding how words, links and human relationships (or, if you wish content writing, search-engine optimization and marketing) work in concert to empower human connection – essential for an integrated approach to efficient and meaningful communication on the Web and beyond.

Words

You don’t need me to tell you that words are powerful connectors and on the Web, their power increases immensely with every click, share, citation and link. What you may need from me, however, is a friendly reminder that words are very necessary and in every single line and chunk of text, we need to give careful consideration to what we put on the Web and how we create digital ripples with our content.

Words need as much magic as structure and well-defined goals and audiences. What, Why, Where, Who might sound trivial and just common sense, but they’re very commonly forgotten when content is crafted. What is it that you’re writing about, why should I care, who do you serve, etc. are all questions to ask ourselves every time we start putting thoughts into words onto the Web.

Writing on the Web, we are creating informational fields around our business and we need to give that endeavor as much attention as we give to any other aspect of our overall Web strategy.

Links

Today, everything is laced with the golden fleece of web threads and we are beginning to realize more and more that links are not only keys to visibility but highways to deeper and broader reach. The question is how do we translate what we do into links and data that talk to the people we want to connect with. The answer is straightforward – with Linked Data.

The Web has been conceived to be something made of semantic webby threads. By semantic webby threads, leaving aside all the poetry I like when thinking through the Web, I mean links with explicit semantic context. Links made between data objects, not between websites. Links to be followed across platforms and systems, creating a unified grid of highly relevant, interconnected information.

Thinking through content from the perspective of Linked Data is what takes us beyond search engine optimization into a world where we link (and mark-up) our content not only because of the greater visibility we will have, but also for the wonderful opportunity to free our information and let it roam across all kinds of environments and media: personal assistants, networked things (think IoT), cognitive systems, and other smart technologies. Only then it will be able to serve a more human, reciprocal and mutually beneficial way of interacting.

Human relationships

The name of the software project ENQUIRE, which was the predecessor of the World Wide Web, was inspired by the title of an old how-to book, Enquire Within Upon Everything. The book, as Wikipedia tells us, was created with the intention of providing encyclopedic information on topics as diverse as etiquette, parlour games, cake recipes, laundry tips, holiday preparation, and first aid.

And this a good reminder that after all, the Web (and our work and life through it) is all about connecting people to information and knowledge. The better we align our digital products, services and identities with the simple truth that behind search lies the need to learn more and do more, the easier we will weave the most important thread of any digital fabrics – that of human connection.

Instead of an Epilogue: Let’s Keep the Web a Spectacular Place to Be and Work On

Weaving a digital identity can be difficult. There are so many technicalities to wrangle, strategic decisions to sweat over and perspectives to consider when we decide to connect words, links and human relationships into a cyber living grid of content, data and interactions. The good news is that when we manage to do this we’ll be able to say that we’ve done our part to keep the web a spectacular place, making it better – the web we want.

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