Over here, in Europe, the most famous English sentence is, “My tailor is rich.” All the old textbooks to learn English started with that sentence, and everyone knows it. For some, it evokes groans as they remember the hell of trying to understand when to pronounce l-e-a-d as “led” and when to pronounce it as “leed.”
Today, I begin with, “My software is rich.” Rich in information, that is. Rich in content. What do I mean by this? I mean that software is quickly transforming from a tool that helps you act on content (the big three: word processors, databases and spreadsheets do just that), to a vector of information that actually informs you. It is irrelevant whether the software fetches information from somewhere out on the web or in a cloud, or actually contains its own database, or invents the information. Software now speaks to us, and sometimes in volumes.
Software today is doing medical diagnosis, it’s showing us how the climate is evolving, it’s even evaluating how well we pronounce “My tailor is rich” and suggesting ways for us to improve our accents. It exists on our desktop machines, on servers, in the cloud or the web, and we don’t really care where it is, we interact seamlessly with it wherever it is to be found. Bill Gates was right about that one.
What this means is that when we design software, we have to take all that content into account. Someone has to manage its life cycle, change out obsolete material, guide its development and make sure it is accurate, coherent, up-to-date, and understandable.
Content in software is no different from content on a web site or anywhere else. Content people need to be involved when software is initially conceived to ensure that this content is integrated seamlessly with the interface, with user guidance, with external (web or cloud based) content sources, etc.
Content strategists and designers therefore need to be involved from day one when software is designed. They need to be part of the design team, and actively involved, since they are working on one of the program’s most important subsystems: the information subsystem.
This also implies having a content strategy in the first place, one that is agreed from top management on down. This strategy needs to include all the different facets of content that the software interacts with, including, eventually, customer support web sites. You should be presenting a unified face to your public, using consistent terminology, information presentation formats, look and feel, etc.
If we don’t do this, our software’s content will be threadbare.