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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Contextual Content Distribution Gets Publishers' Content In The Right Context: Micro-Context

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Contextual Content Distribution Gets Publishers' Content In The Right Context: Micro-Context Publishing is Here.

by John Blossom

While many publishers focus on search engines to get their content in the most valuable context possible that's not where issues of context begin and end for online content.

1-Click Answers 2.0 by working on a page of The New York Times online edition

A new generation of micro-context services are bringing valuable content sources down to the level of words and phrases in destination content.

These new and evolving services enable publishers to expose their own content and content from high-quality content partners to give audiences a high-value experience whenever they decide to shift their focus.

Think of every bit of content in your services as the potential starting point for an enhanced relationship that can keep audiences coming back for more.


If you read our postings with any regularity you know that we're big on context as a key factor in making content more valuable.

Search engine portals, and online ad networks get the lion's share of attention in providing valuable context, but they are hardly the end of the story for providing contextual content.

To date many of these contextual services have focused on navigation aids that appear on a given page of context such as categories, taxonomies or context-specific categories or "related" links to provide useful additional content based on an entire page's content.

But as seen in this week's introduction of's "One-Click Answers" service for The New York Times (our earlier coverage) context at the page level is getting a lot more specific these days.

The feature allows a user to get access to NYT-branded reference content from just by pointing at any word or phrase in a news article and ALT-clicking their way to a popup window.

Nothing new in and of itself, mind you: has had this capability available via download from their own site for over a year and search engines such as Google have had right-clicking to search results available on a similar basis for a long time.

But services such as the feature on the NYT site begin to get audiences more used to context that leads to high-quality content sources being available anywhere on any page - without requiring a specific software download or having to plod through search results.

We saw similar micro-context capabilities in the Infocious contextual link service at last week's ASIDIC conference. Infocious provides a pop-up box when one hovers over a link on a page to provide a user both contextual search results from the Web and content that could be made available from other services - including a publisher's own content.

It's a great idea for providing your users content options that are in your own best interest at the point at which they're getting ready to leave for other destinations, combining the best attributes of links and stickiness in the same feature.

With limited page "real estate" that's actually read by audiences always at the ready to skip along to the next service maximizing services in micro-contexts that work off of the content itself is a very important aspect of content design.

Every word, graphic or multimedia presentation can become a service in and of itself, capitalizing on contextual interest that may be far more narrow or broad than any editorial staff can envision in advance of setting up a page design.

This type of micro-contextual content increases the need to consider at a very detailed level how content is formatted in a page.

Microformats, for example, can be embedded in content pages to allow social networks, people and organization profiles, licenses, tags and categories to be keyed off of very small pieces of a Web or XML page's content (see Robin Good's coverage on Microformats), a benefit to search engines as well as to users benefiting from richer content and indexing built on microformats.

How can microcontext-enabled content be designed to benefit your own content services?

Here are a few key factors to keep in mind when deciding how to tool up on micro-context services:

  • Try to bring audiences to your preferred micro-context content sources in a natural way.

    Photo credit: Taro Taylor

    For years publishers have injected their articles with special links to stock quotations and references with their own special brew of accelerated linking capabilities. These are good micro-context services in their own right, but oftentimes their non-standard looks and functions can confuse users as much as they help them.

    Today's micro-context services emphasize seamless integration that doesn't require any guesswork as to how to take advantage of enhanced content services. Bring more context to each piece of content, yes - but try to have features that feel completely intuitive and that conform as much as possible to evolving industry standards. Let "stickiness" feel like a good thing instead of something that you want to wash off as soon as possible.

  • Choose high-quality content sources for micro-contexts that bring predictable benefits.

    Photo credit: Anja

    Exposing deeper context has value in and of itself but if the click-through brings the user to "pretty good" content it's less likely to be seen as a valuable alternative to search engines. Integrating high-value or premium content sources and other content from your core services that can benefit from micro-contexts should be your first priority.

    Remember, though, that quality is in the eyes of your audience.

    Social media content that helps users to leverage their personal relationships or favorite feeds and bookmarks may be at least as valuable as traditional content databases under your own wing. Be ready to think carefully about a wide range of internal and external content partners that can give the "bang" that micro-context content promises to deliver.

  • Don't reinvent your page-level context tools.

    Photo credit: Miodrag Gajic

    There's still important value to be gained from providing higher-level tools such as taxonomies, clustering and "related links" services in a given page of content: users expect these tools and see them as a strong plus.

    Micro-context content cannot replace these but will complement them - and may even be able to leverage their strengths to provide the right content in a micro-context. But when your audience is ready to shift their focus you want to provide as much value as possible whenever they're ready to do so - word by word, image by image, clip by clip.

While micro-context cannot be a panacea for an inferior core content service these enhanced capabilities can provide high value to everyday editorial output that will require a minimum of investment and development and high levels of payback.

Instead of thinking of search engines as appliances that users "go to", think of every item of content that you present to an audience as the potential starting point for new investigations that can enhance the value of your service to that audience.

How much value? We hope to demonstrate some of these capabilities to you in our own content in the months ahead so that you can judge for yourself.

Originally written by John Blossom, President of Shore Communications Inc. on ContentBlogger(TM) with the original title: "Micro-Context: Moving Beyond Search Engines to Content-Enabled Publishing Services" on September 25th 2006

Read more about John and the management consulting services of Shore Communications Inc. covering enterprise, media and personal publishing at

John Blossom -
Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
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posted by on Wednesday, September 27 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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