AR Looks Cool, But Where’s the Content?

By Alan J. Porter | STC Senior Member

As pre-sales content and post-sales content begin to overlap, Alan Porter provides the latest insights about our role in that evolution in Convergence Conversations. Learn through this column to build bridges and form synergies with your counterparts in marketing. Contact Alan at to ask a question or propose a topic for him to cover in this column.

I remember when augmented reality (AR) was going to be the next big thing. I had AR apps on my phone, and a few friends were walking around with Google Glass. We were on our way to an AR driven world, but that was four years ago. Why hasn’t the promise materialized yet? I believe that one of the main reasons is there is a key missing ingredient: content.

I first came across AR about 11 years ago and was soon advocating for it as a potential delivery channel for product service procedures (i.e., technical documentation), but most people seemed to think of it as little more than a curiosity. Today, however, there are new AR companies popping up every week, and some more traditional engineering software companies are literally betting their future on it. Nearly every manufacturing company is experimenting with it, and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in several proof-of-concept projects. Yet the vast majority remain just that, proofs of concept. Why, after 11 years, has AR failed to become a mainstream technology?

Because no one gives much thought to where the content is coming from or to how it needs to be created and organized for what is essentially a new sensory experience. Most AR projects are focused on proving the technology rather than designing the experience, and as such, these projects tend to be built around a single product use case and a corresponding content set. Often, the content is designed specifically for the project.

For AR to reach its potential, it needs to scale, and as a user experience driven by visual images and accompanying text, it needs the underlying content to scale as well. I will admit to be being the annoying guy at AR demos who asks, “Where’s the content coming from?” It’s a question we should all be asking.Those of us in the field of technical communications are best positioned to provide the answer.

We should no longer be thinking of ourselves as technical writers. We are now (or should be) customer advocates helping define and map the customer experience from the outside-in perspective. The arrival of new delivery channels and technologies like AR give us the perfect opportunity to become the subject matter experts on how to plan, create, and deliver the content needed to drive the experience.

Content to drive an AR experience needs to be modular in design, and it needs to be modeled and tagged with the right metadata to deliver the right experience, depending on the environment, process, and context of whatever the AR user is viewing through their device of choice at any particular time. The content must also be written to answer questions, or provide guidance within that context, removing a lot of the environmental assumptions that underlie many current content sets.

In today’s screen driven world, we can no longer predict or control what device our customers use to access our content or (thanks to the pervasive use of search technologies) where in the narrative flow they start to consume content. We are learning, however, how to adapt and plan for that. We can take those lessons and use them as the foundation for producing relevant content in a near future where the screen is no longer the dominant interface—a combination of voice, optics, and heads-up displays means that we can’t anticipate what our customers will be looking at when they want access to information.

I’m still a firm believer in the idea that the AR revolution will happen. We just need the optics technology to take a leap forward and make sure we have a critical mass of relevant, modular, intelligent, tagged content ready to feed it.

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