The ‘Content is King’ / ‘Content is Dead’ Debate

Last month Steve Wheeler on his Learning With E’s blog published a couple of posts which explored the development of the “Content is King” meme and the variations on the “Content is Dead” ripostes.

Steve began by suggesting that “Content is a tyrant…” – a lengthy and well-written post which generated 79 tweets and 14 likes on Facebook.

The following day Steve published his own riposte: “…context is king” which he introduced by providing the context to his initial post:

In yesterday’s post I made the statement that the internet is better as a creative space than it is as a repository.

and went on to conclude that:

As I argued yesterday however, content is no longer the driving force of the web, and should not be viewed in isolation. The context within which the content is situated should also be focused upon as an important component of any analysis of web based learning activity.

I contributed to the discussion in a comment on the post:

I’ve previously suggested that “Communications is king” (if the network goes down people say “I can’t access my email” and not “I can’t access the VLE or the OPAC“.

I then realised that “Community is king” – communication channels are no use if you’ve no-one to chat with“.

Although some people are dismissive of use of such soundbites I find that it can be helpful to be able to crystallise a viewpoint in a few brief words, whilst acknowledging that the true picture will be more complex.

Communicating Succinctly

I was reflecting on ways in which one may communicate an “elevator pitch” if, for example, you are in the lift with a senior manager and have a brief opportunity to explain the value of one’s professional activities. As described in a post on How Twitter Expertise Helps Your Writing and Dissemination  Twitter is a valuable tool for developing the skills in being able to communicate succinctly.

From The Guardian:

As an aside I should also add how funny I find many of the @guardianstyle tweets, which demonstrate that if you have skills in writing headlines you can include an initial comment and a witty reply is 140 characters. As an example the following tweets were posted while I was writing this post:

RT @caffyrelf: RT @suzanne_moore: The past, present and future walked into a bar. It was tense. [source]

Having walked into a bar, the barman served a dangling participle. [source]

Into the bar, a man walked and bought a drink – what linguists call thematic ordering. #grammar #language [source]

So this zeugma came into a bar and some money … [source]

I have to admit that I didn’t know what zeugma meant (did you) but was sufficiently motivated to Google it and then understood that last tweet – and have expanded my vocabulary:-)

The Guardian is renowned for its headlines. As described in the Guardian style guide:

In the 1970s and 80s the Guardian suffered from a reputation for excruciating puns; today, we want to be known for clever, original and witty headlines.

In addition the Guardian is also famous for its cartoon’s especially those made by Steve Bell. An example of how a political point can be made in a single image is illustrated in this cartoon from the Steve Bell: Bell Époque – in pictures article published in the Guardian (25 May 2011). If you are a Guardian reader of a particular age this cartoon of Margaret Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Hesletine published in 1990 will still, 22 years on (!) still bring back strong memories of those Thatcherite times.

Communicating Visually

As I do not have any drawing skills I also felt that being able to communicate using cartoon was not foe me. However I was recently introduced to Pixton and decided to give this cartoon creation tool a try.

The aim of the cartoon was to explain succinctly and visually the origin of the term “Content is king” and how it was challenged by the notion that “Communications is king“; how communication channels are of little value unless there is a significant community of users and how such a community may leave an established and thriving service if alternatives are provided and adopted. In light of such complexities, rather than seeking to identify a single best environment, there is a need to acknowledge that that a variety of tools will be used to reflect different user preferences, functionality and, indeed trends and fashions. Or to put it briefly: “Context is king“.

Cartoon 1: [source] (35 words)

Cartoon 2: [source] (46 words)

Cartoon 3: [source] (37 words)

Cartoon 4: [source] (44 words)

This came to a total of 162 words. But what Steve Wheeler actually said, in 183 words, was:

In essence, Kozma and McLuhan both believed that context (i.e. the tools, the media), were at least as important as the content they delivered, whilst Clark agreed with Gates that the content was king. Increasingly, in today’s digital age, many of us are following Clark’s perspective, focusing on content, without paying much attention to the tools we use to make sense of it. In some ways, this is a natural progression, because tools and technologies are becoming more transparent and easy to use without too much thought. Yet in focusing on the content, as McLuhan warned, we may miss the entire message. Highly digitally literate individuals are able to communicate effectively across several platforms without loss of power or nuance. This is known as ‘transliteracy’, a sophisticated grasp of the affordances of the media and technologies that is becoming the passport to success for today’s digital learner and scholar. Transliteracy goes beyond content, and exploits the power and potential of many different tools and services, giving the user an edge over content, enabling them to connect, communicate, consume, create and collaborate more effectively.

Of course both approaches can be equally valid – after all, context is king.

The question I am now asking myself is whether I should continue to make use of Pixton? This post contains the first four cartoons I created. I am conscious of the stereotypes in the characters) bearded professor advising bright young (white) female student. I wonder how easy it is to edit the characters and the scenes in Pixton. Hmm, it seems it’s very easy:

Note: the cartoons as well as the text in this blog post is provided under a Creative Commons licence. The image from The Guardian has been used to illustrate the power of a cartoon. A link has been provided to the source material. It is not felt that use of this cartoon will deprive the Guardian or the cartoonist of funding or undermine their status. However the cartoon will be removed if the copyright holder requests this.