Content and Containers (Part 1)

Jan 27

Yesterday I discovered an informative (and quite lovely) digital poster via my Twitter community. Titled “Content, An Illustrated History” the beautifully illustrated historical timeline by Philip Sheldrake traces the evolution of human communication from cave paintings to cutting edge digital media. If you haven’t already seen it, please take a look.

But there’s one flaw in the beauty. The timeline, in fact, is NOT about the history of content. It’s about the history of containers.

And this bugs me, as an information management professional with 17+ years into the field. The failure to separate content from container is a decades old problem in the area of records and content management. E-mail, TV broadcasts, YouTube video or Tweet – these are containers that hold content. Like a file cabinet. Or Garbage can. Or sticky note on the fridge door. A grocery list is a grocery list, whether I Tweet it, txt it, video myself reciting it, or write it on the back of a napkin. How I record it, and how I deliver it doesn’t make it anything more, or less than that.

I got rid of TV almost 6 years ago. Because the content is mostly crap. It doesn’t matter if the sitcom or movie suddenly becomes available over the ‘net, or my phone, or whatever tablet device I buy this year. It’s still crap and not worth my time in most cases. (See: Cognitive Surplus)

Content matters. Containers matter. But for different reasons. Please stop confusing the two.