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Book: A Futurist's Manifesto by Brian O'Leary, Hugh McGuire

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Context, Not Container (Brian O'Leary)

Brian O’Leary is a publishing consultant and principal of Magellan Media Partners, an Adjunct Professor of Publishing at NYU, and has had held senior positions in the publishing industry, including Production Manager at Time Inc. and Associate Publisher at Hammond Inc. You can find Brian on Twitter at: @brianoleary.

The way we think about book, magazine, and newspaper publishing is unduly governed by the physical containers we have used for centuries to transmit information. Those containers define content in two dimensions, necessarily ignoring context, defined here as tagged content, research, footnoted links, sources, and audio and video background, as well as title-level metadata.

The process of filling containers strips out context. In the physical world, intermediaries like booksellers, librarians, and reviewers provide readers with some of the context that is otherwise lost in creating a physical object.

But in our evolving, networked world—the world of “content in browsers”—we are no longer selling content, or at least not content alone. To support discovery and utility in digital environments, we need to compete on context.

The current workflow hierarchy—container first, limiting content and context—is already outdated. To compete digitally, we must start with context and preserve its connection to content so that both discovery and utility are enhanced.

Unless we think about containers as an option and not the starting point, ...

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