Is the “Right Info” Meme Still Right?

At the recent LavaCon 2012 Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies, Michael Boses and I presented a session on “How to Deliver the Wrong Content to the Wrong Person at the Wrong Time.” For my part, I showed a publishing life cycle diagram and discussed best practices for each stage that can enhance the value and discoverability of your content. The “Wrong Way” corollary for each phase was, of course, a commensurate worst practice to avoid. You can find our full set of slides here. But as in any good spy thriller, the plot is thicker than first glance would suggest.

As I looked into the origin of the “Right Content/Right Person/Right Time” phrase, I learned that the meme is not unique to tech pubs–it is used by many communities. The meme is also commonly seen as “right information/right person/right time,” which I prefer because it better suggests the knowledge that users are after within the content. Michael Boses reminded me that the phrase may have originated from the intelligence community where having the right information at the right time may keep someone from losing their life.

One of the most interesting discussions I came across in my search was in a gaming blog that explained this mantra in terms of helping players navigate their avatars through both spatial and temporal addressing in computer games. If you lose this important information about your character in course of the game, you have no option but to start over. And in gaming, that means you Lose a Life.

Finding the right information shouldn’t be so challenging!

In the game of finding knowledge in the content, our readers often run into obstacles and dead ends that result in their having to start over. They Lose a Life, as it were.  And readers, like Wookiees, can take it badly when that happens. To paraphrase C-3PO’s advice from that famous gaming scene in the original Star Wars movie, “May I suggest a new strategy, R2? Help the Reader win!”

That gaming post suggested some strategies for composing a well-written topic that might help our readers be more successful in their forays into the tulgey wood of documentation. How close is the craft of writing to the craft of game design? Likely much closer than you may have imagined!

  • The right information in gaming is the world state–the knowledge of where the game player is located in the landscape and in their progress towards a successful adventure. In writing, I see this as corresponding to personalization–content enriched with the keywords or finding aids that can help readers find their way to–and through–the appropriate information buried within the larger body of content. Normally you would use indexing, semantic markup, and keyword choices to enrich the states or discoverability of the content.  Content without such searchable terms becomes essentially invisible to the seeker; if they can’t find it, it wasn’t there. And for that unfortunate seeker who comes up empty, this means, “Lose a life, start over.”
  • The right person is when the decision maker is well identified and associated with a plan of action. In writing, we might associate actionable roles such as Installer, Operator, or Administrator to our readers. But think also of soft roles such as Influencer, Champion, and Skeptic, which can greatly affect how your information gets socialized and recommended (or not!). If you have not enabled your intended reader to put themselves into whichever of these roles that you had in mind, they never got onto the right path in the game to begin with and they probably lost time trying to read or apply information they didn’t need. “Lose a life, start over.”
  • The right time in gaming is when a well understood ‘theory of action’ exists for the time frame over which the world state changes. Put another way, if your information is not up to date, then the Right Time for that tidbit was in the past, and for today’s reader, that is the Wrong Time. Or perhaps the reader arrived at the right place but a crucial associative link (as a ‘theory of action’) could not be generated when it was needed. Either way, that person got stranded in a time shift. “Lose a Life, start over.”

As you write, it may help to keep in mind some of these game-based interpretations of Right Content/Right Person/Right Time. Finding the right information should not be the challenge for readers, it should be the reward. Let’s help them win!

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2 Responses to Is the “Right Info” Meme Still Right?

  1. Max Dunn says:

    Great post. I have been that person receiving the wrong information at the wrong time, so I should know. :-)

    It is interesting how gaming software ends up informing more practical applications. We are implementing real time collaboration in our design tool, and sure enough the real experts are those building game software.

  2. Mark Lewis says:

    Yes. I was recently at Canary Wharf in London and the phrase on the ticker that circled the Reuters building was extremely similar to “right information right person at the right time”. So yes, communities other than tech pubs are getting it.
    The point about “finding aids” reminded me of conversations I often have with college students at STC meetings. I drill home the point that they can write the best topic/document/chunk in the world, but if the reader can’t find it, you’ve failed and the reader loses. Fortunately today we have additional finding aids such as semantic markup.

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