Adaptive Content

06 Feb 2013

What do we do when content created for a desktop website needs to fit on a smartphone screen? The temptation might be to create another set of content for smartphones. But what about tablets, laptops, and other devices that fall between a desktop and phone? When you consider the overhead of managing content for each class of device, it’s clear that we need a better approach.

This year I was lucky enough to attend An Event Apart in San Francisco and a presentation by Karen McGrane confirmed some of my thoughts on this subject, mainly that we should be able to create content once and publish it everywhere.

McGrane calls it adaptive content. The goal of this approach is to think of content as reusable “chunks”, not pages, and to describe it with metadata.

“Metadata is the new art direction”


Metadata describes the structure of content. It tells you what’s important, when it happened, where it happened, and what’s related. Metadata for a blog post might include things like the author, date, tags, and related media. All of this information describes the content without necessarily dictating its appearance. This abstraction allows the same content to be presentented in a variery of ways. Apps and websites that consume the content can use the attached metadata as a guide for how it should be displayed.

McGrane also suggests that content should be written for reuse. It’s not just about different devices, though. We often want our content to appear on more than one page, on another website, or on social networks like twitter and Facebook. Instead of truncating content to fit, we should offer it in multiple sizes that work in different contexts. An example would be an excerpt that appears in a side bar.

“Truncation is not a content strat…”


The qualities that make content adaptive also make it distributable and easy to work with. Without writing a ton of code, developers can fetch content from an API and format it for different platforms. NPR (National Public Radio) has seen an eighty percent increase in page views since launching their own content API and many of their apps were developed in just a few weeks.

Being able to create content once and publish everywhere is an exciting prospect. With adaptive content we can reduce administrative overhead and be sure that our content is ready for any device.

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