Content Analysis: Evolution, Psychology, Research, and Software

Open laptop on a desk with software loaded.
Photo by Radek Grzybowski / Unsplash

Topics covered

  1. Content Analysis History
  2. Screen Real Estate
  3. Yerkes-Dodson Law
  4. The Future of Work
  5. How Your Monitor Mirrors Your Mind
  6. The Future of Content Analysis
  7. Best Content Analysis Software

Nations were built by the work ethic of their people, both for better and for worse. Progress began with the first movers and built momentum with the pioneers and inventors.

Fledgling countries have risen from the ground up, with the coming of age of railroads, factories, and the introduction of the assembly line. As nations evolved, the types of work changed, but the will to work, and the job’s pivotal place in our lives, remained paramount. Now, we’ve reached a point where maximizing screen real estate has become essential for content analysis.

With our growing dependence upon computers, and the emergence of virtual environments, the meaning of working has, once again, been transformed. Many of the jobs we do today are done in ways that would be unrecognizable to the generations of just a few short years ago. These new jobs require new tools for content analysis, a new type of workplace, and a reinvention of the work ethic.

1. Maximizing screen real estate: an evolutionary endpoint for content analysis

Issues that affect the entire world are also having a drastic impact on how we work. Global climate change, family dynamics, and the Covid-19 pandemic are molding the ways we think about our job, what we’re willing to do for work, and how we get the work done.

The very act of going to work has changed, with the advent of the remote workplace. Working from home has undergone explosive growth in popularity. The jobs of today are often done best in a less stressful, more domestic, and more individually tailored “virtual office.”

We’ve come an amazingly long way, since the days when John Henry raced against the machine. The new types of jobs require new skills, such as content analysis.

Content analysis is the study of documents and communication artifacts, which might be texts of various formats, pictures, audio or video.

Many of today’s most important jobs are done with the brain, rather than with muscles. That’s why understanding how the brain works is key to getting the most out of today’s employees.

On top of that, those who do brain-intensive jobs are often not the same types of thinkers as factory workers or builders. They require new conditions and new tools, to do the best job they can.

Jobs, where content analysis is the stock-and-trade, are becoming more and more the norm. Those whose intellectual property is the highest in value are the most crucial employees and will bring in the biggest profits for their companies.

Constructing the optimal content analysis environment, for the uniquely wired, “creative brain,”  has given rise to a new vocabulary. One vital concept to understand, when embracing the remote job, is “maximizing screen real estate" and the concept of "building a second brain."

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Simply put, maximizing screen real estate is analogous to “regular,” real estate–it involves increasing the space on the monitor of a worker, and its value, as measured by the items, and their location, within that space. If you’re building a house, and the land upon which that house is built has access corridors to a water source, forest, or farmland, its value varies, and the way upon which the land is built, changes.

Similarly, in a virtual workplace, where the creative output of the brain is the prized commodity, essential to do the job effectively, the way space on the computer monitor is allocated becomes crucial–not only to an awareness of the job that needs to be done but to how efficiently the brain conducts content analysis and responds with the best solutions.

Anyone who’s ever been trapped on the phone, on hold forever, while an employee on the other end tries to find the right menu, or the right account, or the right list of options, is painfully familiar with an example of poor screen real estate. Companies that pay attention to ergonomic design and the quality of their content analysis workflows gain customers, by out-performing the competition and providing a more pleasant interaction.

When a company’s business is intellectual property, a more creative employee produces more valuable intellectual property–it’s as simple as that. If the employee has to dig around in sub-menus, understand abstruse code or go through complex steps to conduct content analysis, often times the creative impulse gets lost in the shuffle. This, obviously, can lead to inferior results, wasted time, and increased frustration for employees and employers alike.

Thus, maximizing screen real estate, intellectual property value, and employee efficiency are intertwined. That’s why a closer examination of the way today’s content analysis platforms are constructed and optimized, and examples of the best such platforms are not only informative but interesting and exciting.

Let’s dive in!

2. How your monitor mirrors your mind

It’s a tried but true maxim; when speaking of real estate, location is king. When it comes to the human brain, we have little choice but to understand it. We’re a long way from rearranging the brain, the way we can rearrange the computer screen.

The human brain is truly a miracle, billions of years in the making.

While its structure seems haphazard, the brain is still the most powerful computer in existence. Its two hemispheres are specialized to do different tasks.

The right hemisphere, for example, controls the left side of the body and receives input from the left eye and ear, and vice versa. The left half of the brain handles speech, comprehension, and language, as well as most mathematical tasks. The right half is responsible for the types of creative thought processes that lead to valuable intellectual property, whether new apps, ad campaigns, or creative marketing solutions.

It’s the “grey matter,” predominantly in the cerebral cortex, that bears the burden of creative thinking and problem-solving. Those individuals with a greater density of grey matter neurons are, in general, more creative. The grey matter is more intensely involved during creative tasks, such as writing software.

This is, of course, a very generalized explanation of what goes on inside the brain, when an employee is at work. To dive in even more deeply, I spoke with Carl Nordgren.

Carl Nordgren is a serial entrepreneur—he has started six companies and assisted in the launch of nearly a dozen, across a range of industries, from pioneering in cellular telephony to sports magazine publishing. He has taught over 50 courses in creativity and entrepreneurship at Duke for 14 years.

In addition, Nordgren is an award-winning and best-selling novelist, telling stories rooted in his teenage experience as a fishing guide living and working with Ojibwa in northwest Ontario. His calling is to help each of us grow our creative capacities and develop our entrepreneurial instincts and behaviors, a calling that informs his book ‘Becoming a Creative Genius (again)’ and his most recent start-up, one launched in the middle of COVID.

He explained how the human creative process works, in greater detail:

“The brain has three networks:  the executive control network, the default network, and the salience network. In a creative or artistic person, these three networks will work together, and in less creative activity, those networks are less likely to be engaged, and are not working together.”

When engaged in a creative exercise, these three networks all “dance together.” The brain is like a muscle,” Nordgren said. “The brain that fires together, wires together.” With this phrase, Nordgren elegantly summed up the important role of neural plasticity.

While the brain cannot grow new neurons, it can adapt to the ones it has to learn a new job. “If you decide to learn to play the violin,” explains Nordgren, “and you look at the brain under an MRI, … Six months later, after you practice, a new brain scan will show much more coordinated activity in … the areas you’re using to learn to play the violin.”

Thus, the brain that "fires" together, "wires" together.

What does all this mean to the worker whose job depends on content analysis and creativity, in a time-sensitive environment, in cooperation with other workers?

Simply this: the more streamlined the creative process, the less time spent on superfluous brain activities, the better. The brain, allowed to focus its energy on the act of creation, teaches itself how to be more and more creative.

Ironically, Nordgren notes that “The first thing a creative person does, when having a moment of inspiration, is close their eyes.” When the primary interface between themselves and their work is through the screen, this would, on the surface, appear to suggest that what’s on the screen doesn’t matter. This is, however, exactly the opposite of the truth.

“Visual processing takes the highest amount of brain resources… between 60-80% of the brain’s processing power is used in making sense of visual input,” Nordgren said. “… visual signals bounce all over the place, from the front to the back of the brain …”

In the end, when the eyes fly open, and the new idea is coming together in the mind of a creative worker, what confronts them is their computer screen. Where raw source material is placed on that screen, and how much of it is available at first glance, is absolutely vital, at this point in the creative process. If the creative impulse is to be captured and harnessed, time is of the essence! The enemy is clutter, hidden windows, and arduous sequences of mouse clicks and keyboard commands. Pulling the pieces together into the streamlined end result should, instead, be as easy as walking, or breathing.

This brings us back to the importance of maximizing screen real estate.

The definition given here, while concise, is rather primitive. As shown above, It’s not only important to get more content on the screen; it’s even more important to establish the best locations for content analysis and to put the most relevant content in those best locations.

Advances in our understanding of the way the brain works, and the evolution of the awareness that what’s on the monitor is key to a smooth, creative workflow.

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3. Technologies designed for content analysis

Companies whose employees’ creative brains are the key to success are designing revolutionary new workflow platforms to take advantage of the way the creative brain works best.

To understand the ways that design impacts maximizing screen real estate, I went in search of a cutting-edge content analysis platform for the person who was predominantly a creative thinker, but who was also holding down a job, producing intellectual property in a time-sensitive environment.

I found a great example of such a virtual work environment with Kahana.

Adam Kershner, one of the co-founders of Kahana, was kind enough to explain to me Kahana’s mission, and how they are different from most other content analysis platforms:

“Many technologies aren’t designed visually with the creative person in mind, and thus require a lot of visual energy to navigate, but Kahana is all about providing more instinctual experiences for artists and creators to help them accomplish their goals, by removing superfluous nuts and bolts that are distracting or cumbersome. Kahana is designed with Yerkes-Dodson Law in mind.”

For more on the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

By this law, while a certain amount of movement and muscle arousal is beneficial, there’s an upper limit to this, after which this arousal becomes stressful. This stress starts to compromise productivity.

“Essentially,” Kershner said, “our approach is to provide a single window—not multiple—for anyone to have all of their content analysis in one place, which would intuitively and subconsciously be navigable by them. Since you have an underlying awareness of what is contained within a Kahana window, you spend less visual effort identifying where a resource is for a project.

This makes managing many tabs and documents more natural, like the feeling when you are doing something you’re skilled at, like running or surfing. You don’t think about what you’re doing discretely, and instead, you move through a pattern while still having the space to come up with new ideas. Kahana comes from the idea that people can almost thoughtlessly and fluidly conduct content analysis in one window. Because people spend less energy and action on navigation with Kahana, it opens doors for them to actually spontaneously have new ideas (creativity), and success for creatives.”

To further stimulate creative thought flow, Kahana includes a “Zen Mode,” in its design. In Zen Mode, an element of randomness is injected into the single-window design. It doesn’t change the ease with which things can be located. Rather, Zen Mode takes advantage of the way the creative thinker visually assimilates material. Sometimes, differently arranging things, seen at a glance, can give rise to new, creative inspiration.

Since the space on a monitor is limited, a single-window approach to its layout makes sense. It also takes advantage of a phenomenon of the human brain’s ability to learn.

Professor Nordgren told me, “The better learner you are, the wider your peripheral vision.”

Being able to take in as much at a glance as possible, then, would seem to be a key component in maximizing screen real estate.

4. A glimpse into the future of content analysis

“First, we had the legs race. Then, we had the arms race. Now, we’re having the brains race. With any luck, we’ll end up with the human race.” —John Brunner, “Shockwave Rider”

It’s more than just bringing work from the office. It’s even more than just “telecommuting.” Remote work is the way business will be done in a successful future. It sweeps away limits imposed by the older, more rigid demands of the traditional workplace while preserving the importance of earning a living. Remote working will allow more people to earn a living, by making new niches within the business world.

It’s not only good for people, but it’s also better for the planet. It keeps us safer from threats to our health. It lets us be closer to our families. And, it reduces the stress involved with having a job.

Today’s jobs require a new set of skills. Often, these skills involve creative thinking and problem-solving, rather than brute force, or the sustained performance of repetitive tasks. Those whose brains are predominantly creative, however, face unique challenges in the mainstream work paradigm.

There is abundant apocryphal evidence that these types of people manage their time differently, embrace different lifestyles, and traditionally don’t do well in old-school employment settings.

Remote working allows employers to increase their workflow and realize more profits, by embracing such concepts as Flex Time, and being aware of the importance of maximizing screen real estate.

In a new marketplace, where intellectual property is valued above all else, and where solutions to new problems that affect the entire country are a must, those companies that provide the best solutions will thrive. Forbes Magazine recently listed the top five reasons why workplace flexibility will increase bottom lines and why smart employers will be investing in rebuilding their workplaces.

Smart business owners will be paying more and more attention to maximizing screen real estate. It’s vital to make the presentation of information on the monitor to help the brain create the best intellectual property. Understanding how the creative brain works differently, and streamlining the interaction between worker and computer increases the state of flow for anyone.

It’s exciting to take a look into the future and see how extensions of concepts like maximizing screen real estate can bring about a brighter tomorrow. Whole sub-genres of speculative fiction have imagined the evolution of the “machine brain interface.” there is very little such speculative work based on the jobs of the future.

As the gap between computers and the human brain narrows, what will replace the traditional monitor?

Just as LCD flat screens have replaced CRTs, whatever comes next will rely even more heavily on the mechanics of the brain to make it a success.

Written by Mark Baxter
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