What if we started thinking about what various pieces of content do rather than where they go? After all, documents already have functional chunks. They’re the things we call out with formatting.
In most documents, formatting is the only clue to function. So reusing content from a document typically requires a human being to determine what can be reused where.
Moreover, many of your websites are run on content management systems (CMSs) that also rely on the document model. (I’m looking at you, WordPress.)
By default, WordPress dumps pretty much everything but your title into that big body field—though most think tanks are getting better about that. It’s basically a document for the web. You can even get a plugin to make your WordPress WYSIWYG editor look like an old version of Microsoft Word. (Don't do that.)
A CMS built around content-as-documents faces the same problems as content in literal documents—you need human intervention and a lot of cutting-and-pasting to reuse anything.
Things don’t have to be this way.
Your CMS connects to a database, which is sort of like a really fancy spreadsheet. Built properly, your CMS will store each functional piece of content—an attribute in CMS lingo—in its own spreadsheet column. Better still, it’ll give each column a name that tells the CMS what that content does. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
This is the content everywhere model. It’s one in which you create modular content that you can remix and push out across multiple channels. No single output is a “main” thing. Rather, each blog post, each tweet, each infographic, each op-ed tells part of the story.
Transcluding at anything below the page level requires more granular URIs. And that, in turn, requires writing content that is more modular in the first instance.
When you write and store your content modularly, you can reuse it in all sorts of interesting ways. You might hear this referred to as “create once, publish everywhere” (shortened to “COPE”) or “single-source publishing.” Those are both pretty dry and technical.
When you've stored content as ideas, you can easily shuffle those ideas around. A block of content held on a digital card can be moved around the screen, combined and recombined with other items, stacked a bit like Lego bricks.
Just like with those old mixtapes, digital content can be combined in different ways for different purposes. Content-as-a-song is fundamentally modular.