Six Definitions of Smart Content

Smart Content is information, typically originating in "unstructured" formats, that is findable, reusable, more profitable for the producer, and more useful for the consumer. While technology facilitates smart content, it is business value -- not analytics, semantics, or XML storage -- that is central to industry experts' definitions, and to mine...
Smart Content is information, typically originating in unstructured formats, that is findable, reusable, more profitable (however measured) for the producer, and more useful for the consumer.

While technology facilitates smart content, it is business value -- not analytics, semantics, or XML storage -- that is central. This principle, and the realization that others from diverse backgrounds may have differing and informative views, underpin the Smart Content conference, October 19 in New York. The conference brings together experts and practitioners, folks we can learn from. But there's no need to wait to start the discussion. To get it going, I posed the question --

What is "smart content"?
-- to Mirko Minnich, who is SVP, Product Technology Strategy at scientific and technical publisher Elsevier; Mark Stefik, a Research Fellow at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC); Natasha Fogel, who as EVP at StrategyOne leads Edelman's Global Competitive Intelligence and Analytics team; and Dries Buytaert, co-founder and CTO at Acquia, who created the Drupal content-management system.You have my definition, above. I'll relate their definitions in this column and also cite a recent Gilbane Group that, while focused on XML content management, offers a comprehensive look at content frontiers. I hope these six definitions help you understand the constituents and benefits of smart content and its importance. Let's start with...

The scientific publisher

Mirko Minnich's was the first use of the term smart content I encountered. He has presented on the topic going back a while, for instance at May's Mark Logic user conference:

Smart Content is becoming a key enabler of the transition of Elsevier from content publisher to information solutions provider, providing the means for both better access and discovery of content as well as the production of data from content for new science and healthcare solutions.
But that's not really a definition, so I asked Mirko for one and he replied, "Smart Content is a common language creating a product bridge between our data analytics business and 'expert opinion' (publishing) business."

A bit terse, so I asked Mirko to elaborate, which he gladly did:

Smart Content is content enhanced to be fit-to-purpose, meaning content that is
  • organized and structured for customer tasks and needs (not just for the production, packaging and distribution of physical documents),
  • suitable for in-depth analytics (not just for "there-and-gone" consumption), and
  • is produced by turning content into data using semantic technologies (not just taxonomies).
We see Smart Content as the "product bridge" between our "meaningful use" data analytics business and our "actionable expert opinion" business -- the data supplying the "what" and text supplying the "why." This bridge is realized by the application of analytics and semantics to (a) create new products, new services with contemporary user experience, (b) Deliver an answer not a result (drive better usability of existing products, increase discoverability and access of content, provide unified access / interoperability, integration with search), and (c) to realize new dynamic monetization models.

The researcher

I recruited PARC's Mark Stefik, along with Natasha Fogel and Dries Buytaert, for the Visionaries Panel that opens the Smart Content conference. Mark's smart content definition, he says, came out of discussions at PARC:

Smart Content organizes itself automatically depending on your context, goals, and workflow. It stands ready in the background to respond when you want to get updated, ask a question, or complete a task. Smart Content also is transparent, allowing you to see why it's doing what it's doing."

The phrase "smart content" is interesting in how it re-frames match-making between people and content. Conventional thinking locates intelligence and knowledge with the user, not the content. The user gets the content/information he needs because he knows what is relevant to the task or context or workflow or whatever.

In contrast, the phrase "smart content" promotes the idea that the intelligence and knowledge can be associated with the content rather than the user -- perhaps via other unnamed agents. Instead of the user asking "what content do I need" -- the content asks "who needs me?"

This shift potentially employs more resources, more knowledge, and more points-of-view in matching people to content. It opens the door to a much richer process of intermediation between people and content.

The agency analytics executive

Edelman StrategyOne EVP Natasha Fogel says,

In my opinion smart content is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the definition of what is smart may be different from one 'customer' to another depending on why it's sought.

It's vital to collect, synthesize and analyze this relevant content using primary and secondary research methods and business analytics that so that we have the most complete picture of what's important to stakeholders and then can ultimately measure how we take action.

While it's intriguing to watch this landscape unfold, it presents a multitude of opportunities including but certainly not limited to measurement, authenticity, data normalization and schemas. It's guaranteed to keep us busy for a long time.

The innovator

Dries Buytaert created Drupal, an open-source content-management system that facilitates semantic publishing. According to Dries,

All major search engines, including Google and Yahoo!, are moving aggressively trying to capture structured data. This isn't exactly a surprise because it provides tremendous opportunity. For example, wouldn't it be great to be able to search all the world's products or jobs from a single site with a single interface? I'd think so. I also think this is at the heart of what it really means to have "smart content." The truth is, it is waiting to happen with the help of the semantic web; we just have to connect the dots and help people adopt it. Most exciting is the role content management systems like Drupal play in getting to this point.

The market watchers

Lastly, I will quote from the Gilbane Group's study, Smart Content in the Enterprise: How Next Generation XML Applications Deliver New Value to Multiple Stakeholders. (I'm not providing a link because the report is available from its vendor sponsors, and I don't wish to favor any one of them.) Authors Geoffrey Bock, Dale Waldt, and Mary Laplante write,

The XML content that is driving contemporary enterprise applications is
  • Granular at the appropriate level
  • Semantically rich
  • Useful across applications
  • Meaningful for collaborative interaction

In this study, we have opted to use the term "smart content" to define this class of content. Smart content is a natural evolution of XML structured content, delivering richer, value-added functionality.

If you ignore the focus on a particular storage mechanism, XML databases (reflecting the sponsorship of the report, I have to observe), and if you consider the role that text analytics and semantic and content-production technologies play in populating those structures, you do get a definition of "smart content" that is very like mine and those of the industry experts I've cited. I should mention another Gilbane study (also vendor sponsored), "Semantic Software Technologies: Landscape of High Value Applications for the Enterprise," by Senior Analyst and Consultant Lynda Moulton. It is a broad (and very useful) semantics market overview although it does feature only limited reporting, and minimal analysis, of media & publishing application market developments.

Six definitions

Smart Content logoSo here we have six definitions of "smart content." They reflect diverse perspectives and touch on the use of analytics, semantics, and flexible information storage and publishing to help information producers and consumers get more out of online, social, and enterprise content. I hope the definitions are useful and that you'll Mark, Natasha, Dries, and me on October 19, at Smart Content (, to learn more.Smart Content is information, typically originating in "unstructured" formats, that is findable, reusable, more profitable for the producer, and more useful for the consumer. While technology facilitates smart content, it is business value -- not analytics, semantics, or XML storage -- that is central to industry experts' definitions, and to mine...

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