August 23, 2007
Externally Located Content

Geoffrey Long sent me a link not too long ago to a really interesting post from Jeffrey Zeldman, a designer and writer. The point? What he calls "externally located" content.

Really, much of what C3 writes about is "externally located content." We are interested in the ways in which technology has allowed for and new conceptions of the audience have acknowledged that viewers can make quite deep connections for and with their content, that the linking among cultural content provides much of its value.

Of course, the blogosphere is the best illustration os this viewpoint, in which value is gained simply by being able to call easy reference to a wealth of prior material. And this leads to a wide variety of content which is purposefully culturally located, fixing to particular ideas and sensibility of the time.

This is where context becomes crucial. It's why WWE 24/7 On Demand gets much of its value from context, linking to content from its past and trying to help provide links to what it means in pro wrestling history, or what it meant for the time period. It's why The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are best understood when watched directly at the time in which they air, because so many of the punch line are directly related to jokes from prior shows--especially shows in recent memory--as well as current events that they expect the audience to already know about.

Zeldman is writing about a poster promoting the new HBO documentary Alive Day Memories, which gets extra power from subtly drawing on the visuals from the Gap clothing campaigns. He writes, "Consciously or unconsciously, an American viewer will almost certainly make an uncomfortable connection between the disfigurement and sacrifice portrayed in this ad, and the upbeat quality of the Gap's long-running, highly successful clothing slash lifestyle campaign."

Henry Jenkins has written about how many campaigns spoof or subtly play off the Mac vs. PC ad campaign here, further emphasizing the importance of this "externally located content." And, often, the very nature of jokes on shows like Seinfeld, and the core of complexity in television serials, relies on the audience doing much of the work in filling in the blanks, in doing the legwork in finding out what that external content is if they aren't aware of it already...