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Demystifying Content Management

  |  October 9, 2002   |  Comments

Content management is a bubbling vat of hyperbole. It's time for some simple language.

"Content management" is a new name for publishing. The core objective of publishing is to get the right content to the right person at the right time at the right cost. Publishers manage publications. Key staff include authors and editors. Authors create content. Editors decide what content should get published and how much editing that content requires.

When the printing press was invented, the process of printing was difficult and complex. The very act of printing was as fascinating as what was being printed.

So too with the Web. It was invented by Tim Berners-Lee as a publishing tool. That's why we have HTML, a publishing markup language. That's why we have Web "pages." Content management is Web-based publishing.

The early years of Web publishing, like the early years of printing, were very dependent on the programmer/developer (the printer). Publishing a large Web site was a major technical feat.

Many people like to make their discipline sound complex because it makes them appear more valuable to the organization. Web publishing sounded very complex.

Web publishing technology is becoming streamlined and standardized. The focus is moving away from tools and toward content. If you understand content, this is your time to shine. Publishing content is a centuries-old discipline. The basic rules and concepts are the same, whether you're publishing in ink or on the Web.

Let's take a publishing perspective to a sample of content management terms:

  • Content toxicity: A pretty ridiculous name for out-of-date content.

  • Dynamic content: Usually content published from a database. Whether content is published from a database isn't relevant. What's relevant is the content is accurate, well written, and up to date.

  • Static content: Content published using static HTML. Again, a largely irrelevant term.

  • Interactive content: Another irrelevant term. People interact. Content informs.

  • Content re-engineering: A mechanical name for editing.

  • Content master: An editor or author.

  • Content manager: An editor.

  • Content strategist: An editor.

  • Information architecture: The discipline of managing the organization and layout of Web content. In print, editors have managed information architecture-type challenges for centuries (table of contents, indexes, etc.).

  • Knowledge harvesting: A weird name for what editors do when they select good content from all the poor stuff they get.

  • Content weeding: The act of editors weeding out poor content.

  • Personalized content: Published content. Publishing is, by definition, an act of personalization. The New York Times has a specific scope and focus. Sports Illustrated is about sports. Fortune magazine is about business. If you edit a Web site, you are by definition creating personalized content. As with much about the Web, personalization has been vastly overhyped.

I've yet to come across a content management issue that cannot be understood from a publishing perspective. If you're managing a Web site, thinking like a publisher can help you clear away the fog of hyperbole. You can focus on what you really need to do to achieve success.


Gerry McGovern Gerry McGovern is a Web consultant and author. His most recent books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, published by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

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