Screens, Research and Hypertext

Powered by 🌱Roam Garden

The Internet Is a Mixtape

Policy mixtapes has a nice ring to it.

The song metaphor has another distinct advantage. Remember mixtapes? They were all built for some purpose.

Music for that party you were throwing.

A soundtrack for your road trip.

A tape to show that special someone how you really feel about him/her.

One to inform your philistine friend that the Top 40 isn’t the entire universe of music.

Just like with those old mixtapes, digital content can be combined in different ways for different purposes. Content-as-a-song is fundamentally modular.

That means identifying pieces of content by function rather than by format. And it means finding [a tool that allows you to work with chunks of modular content])Roam Research, rather than big blobs of body content dumped directly from a Word document.

The cool thing about modular content is that it enables an entirely new kind of writing. In a document, the content is all linear, with an order determined entirely by the author.

Modular content is nonlinear. Any given module could potentially be paired with dozens or even hundreds of other modules.

You can, in effect, build policy mixtapes.

And just like the musical variety, those mixtapes can be customized for particular purposes. Some might be channel-specific (e.g., this combination of modules for Facebook, that one for Medium, this other one for the website, still another for Instagram). Others can be audience-specific (e.g., this collection is for eco-conscious commuters in Boston, that collection is for SNP voters in Aberdeen).

Or, to use the buzzwords du jour, modular content is the first step toward omnichannel publishing and adaptive content.

Getting the right combinations of modules for the right devices takes some work. It’s a job for the wonkcomms equivalent of a producer. In the music world, writing a song, performing a song, and packaging a set of songs into a larger collection are three different skills. Often (though not always), songwriter, performer, and producer are different people.

Many of our organizations have research directors—the songwriters who provide shape to our research programs—and researchers—the stars who bring that research to life.

Wonkcomms-ers are ideally suited to play producer, bringing the various modules together into policy mixtapes.

That work is likely to take on several different forms. Some of it will be editorial, building bespoke mixes by hand. Some of it will be via API design, writing rules or creating taxonomies for combining modules into longer collections. In the coming years, some of it may be designing the machines that go on to learn user preferences.

Dumping the document metaphor in favor of the song metaphor is a first step on the path to embracing our role as producers. It’s a paradigm shift, but one that we’ll need to take if we’re to make our content ready for the next chapter of the Internet.

Plus, "I make policy mixtapes" is a pretty cool job description.

For more context

We should treat content more like a song than like a document.

What to read next

Tell me more about how that producer role would work.

Other items of interest

What does it look like when we make content modular?

How does curation work online?

Content-as-songs means that users can make their own playlists, too.