Content and technology are no longer separable. The entire concept of starkly defined media -- traditionally known as radio and TV stations, newspapers, and magazines -- has shifted because of the Internet. Now print is digital, radio has moving pictures, and TV has a URL.
Providing content across these multimedia channels -- video, radio, or text -- is proving to be a perplexing and complex task on the Web. And at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City today, media provider NPR will describe how it’s meeting the demand.
“Instead of competing with a handful of radio stations, we now compete with hundreds or thousands of media outlets,” NPR’s senior director of technology and digital media, Zach Brand, explained to me in a phone interview. “We have to get our content out across every media stack as well as every technology stack to meet our audience’s needs.”
This, of course, is the crux of the problem for all media organizations -- and for other enterprises as well. Consumers don’t want to be tied to a device, period. Content must converge on every known, and yet-to-be known, form factor or lie discarded in a consumer wasteland.
Up to now, companies have struggled to design content to fit each device’s specs. There has been no one-size-fits-all tool allowing developers to shoehorn content into all the various operating systems, screenscapes, app stores, UIs, browsers, and manufacturer/carrier protocols on the market.
Without a unifying tool or approach, the task has been slow and laborious. In the past, content became warped by hardware specs, and thus inconsistency became a problem.
“All content needs to be designed to be packaged and repackaged, published and republished, used and reused, across many different outlets to many different audiences quickly and easily and nearly instantaneously,” says Seymour Duncker, CEO of iCharts, a company that designs flexible, interactive charts, in a talk with me.
A totally new API approach seems to be key to answering the call for truly flexible content. NPR has taken this road. Today, Zach Brand is presenting the details of how they succeeded, where they failed, what obstacles remain, and which have been conquered.
It’s very unusual for an organization, particularly a media organization, to go public with how it made flexible content work. These days, you’re far more likely to find a leading news organization hiding behind a paywall or touting the end rather than the means of an honest-to-goodness breakthrough.
But NPR’s approach is about “free-for-you” rather than “pay per view” public service, Brand says: “We are trying to get the information out. We are not trying to monetize it.”
NPR’s API allows users access to more than 250,000 stories in 5,000 different group aggregations in any channel they wish. This allows for content to be consumed over a multitude of devices with equal ease.
According to Daniel Jacobson, director of app development for NPR -- and soon to be director of API engineering at Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) -- a secret to success with a flexible content API is to focus on creating a “content pipeline.”
“[Our] focus was on the pipeline from the content management system through the API and then opening the API to everyone. By comparison, most people build the API as ancillary rather than as the central focus,” Jacobson told me.
— Pam Baker is the author of eight books and a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, and other magazines.