No one reads any more. The long form is dead. The written word?  That’s for grandpa! It’s all about video, baby! Everything I just said  is entirely accurate. And yet it’s all wrong. The King is Dead. Long  Live the King.


The fact is that the web and its associated information overload has  given us all a form of ADD. Studies have shown that the majority of  visitors will leave your site within 10 seconds. And the visitors who do  come will skim your page, not read it. And you’ll be lucky if they read  even 20% of a typical page. They scan your page in an “F” pattern,  looking for something to care about before committing themselves to your  content.

What to do about this? Especially if your content is knowledge  content? If you’re selling ideas, not products, you don’t automatically  have big glossy pictures of your coolest gadget you’re hawking, or a  Swedish model in a bathing suit or a Justin Bieber music video.

The solution is what we call the 4X4 Model for Knowledge Content, and  it consists of four key content types and four critical components of those content types. By following this format, your knowledge content (yes, even long  form content) can engage your audience and get the right people to the  right information (and get those who aren’t your audience to skip along –  it’s OK if they leave your site within 10 seconds; remember, they’re  not your audience!)



The Water Cooler

People gather around a water cooler to exchange quick snippets as  brief respite from work. It’s short form. This content is succinct,  direct and compelling. You can think of it as a headline, or a tweet or  an ad. The only purpose is to engage the user, grab their attention and  make them curious so they want more. Water Cooler moments can and should  be found THROUGHOUT a web site – not just as headlines and ads, but  also within the other layers of content.

The Café

People go to cafés for a coffee and a longer conversation. It’s an  opportunity to delve into a subject at some length, but still isn’t deep  study. You can think of it as longer form, produced content. This is a  blog post or a one or two page article or a 3-minute video. This is a  progression from the Water Cooler content to content that explains ideas  and doesn’t just introduce them. In some ways Café content is the most  difficult content to create because it needs to be crafted to tell a  compelling story: a story that is easy to relate and to which visitors  and the media can latch on. As mentioned above, Water Cooler content  plays a critical role in this layer. An article needs a  visual and/or callout text to bring attention to key points within the  article. (This post you’re reading right now is an example of Café  content.)

The Research Library

You go to the library to really learn about a topic. If you’ve heard  an interesting stat (Water Cooler) and chatted with a colleague about it  (Café) and it’s interesting to you, you will go to the library and dig  deeper. You have self-selected as an interested reader on the topic. The  Library contains the research and data that back up what is asserted at  the Water Cooler and Café. It is your more scholarly, long form content.

Just remember, the Water Cooler moments shouldn’t disappear – a  research report that is a wall of grey text will be accessible to, and  read by, a far smaller audience compared to one that is broken into  smaller pieces, includes images and data visualizations and key points  as callouts. Also, the Café is a critical piece of the Library content.  Every piece of Library content you publish should have an associated  executive summary, abstract, or chapter introduction or some other Café content.

The Lab

The lab is where users can interact with the data found in the  Research Library. This is the rarest form of content but, in many ways,  it’s the most powerful. If you choose data and bubble it up to a  headline, you’re making a thousand editorial decisions. Water Cooler  moments are all agenda-driven. Café moments slightly less so, library  moments even less. However, even in the research library, the data has  been massaged and analyzed and delivered in a package. In the lab, you  open the vaults and give users access to the data. They can twist the  knobs and make it about them and their interests.

In addition to our four models of content, we have four critical  components that should be used throughout the models. The arguments for  them are many, but the key idea is that these elements all increase  understanding, engagement, retention and social sharing. This will lead  to better outcomes for your users and, therefore, for you.



Consider a bar chart compared to a table of data in Excel. Which one  is understandable within that all-important 10 seconds? Which tells a  story? Visualization is not just about data, but also concept and  geographic visualization.


Explaining a concept is nothing like weaving a narrative. If you can  tell a story, you are able to convert the abstract into something people  can relate to. Liberal use of video is an effective story-telling and  visualization tool and we recommend it highly, but it’s not the only way.


If I can see something, I can understand it. If I can touch it, I can  know it. Why is the web a successful and popular medium? It’s not just  that it’s convenient. It’s also that it allows us to be the masters of  our own destiny. I don’t have to wait for the Boston Globe to land on my  doorstep and read what they chose to write. I’m free to explore online  and find my own content. This is a critical component to remember when  delivering content. This does NOT mean over-using hyperlinks. It has  been shown that understanding decreases when you add too many hyperlinks  within content. But it does mean offering interactive experiences such  as Lab moments and/or images that can be zoomed for more detail and/or  communities to engage in.


How easy is it to share a full research report and for the recipient  to consume that report? Compare that to sharing/consuming one data point  or one quote. The power of water cooler moments is strongest when you  think about sharing. Those are the nuggets most likely to be shared by  your audience – leading more traffic back to all levels of your site  content. Oh, and you have to have the basic sharing tools so it’s easy  (Tweet and Like buttons, for instance) – copy/paste/email is no longer a  viable sharing model.

The 4X4 approach is the secret to presenting knowledge content in a  way that engages your audience, stepping them into the right level of  content based on their needs, and improving outcomes from that content.  Try 4X4 and you won’t go back to a rear-wheel-drive approach ever again!