Content Management: A Survival Guide: Page 2

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Content vs. Delivery Management:

Much of what passes for content management today is actually Delivery Management, dealing with content already prepared and available for access, either for bulk information products (such as books or CDs) or in support of interactive queries. The key difference between this and true content management is its assumption that content is complete, properly structured and ready for delivery. Most web server software firms offer a brand of CM that is really delivery management.

Content management, on the other hand, supports the functions required to create and finalize content not yet ready for delivery. Sometimes called "work in process management," CM includes functions that relate to authors, editors, collaborators and other personnel involved in the preparation of content, always assuming that the content it supports is not yet ready for use in final information products. The difference could be likened to that between managing a factory and managing a retail outlet.

If you are responsible for the acquisition, creation and finalization of content for hand-off to delivery management, you need CM that goes well beyond what most delivery management systems offer (or do well.)

Building your Content Management List:

If you're responsible for content creation and finalization, you likely face some or all of the challenges listed below (and maybe more.) Determining which ones and understanding what it will take to meet them in your environment is the critical first step in solving the CM riddle:

  1. Enable authors to create richly tagged XML content as a part of their original editorial process. Using a word processor to capture content and then putting in the XML tagging later means you end up with a smart version of a not-so-smart source; guaranteed to be no more useful than its parent. This means that you will want your authors to use an XML editor. The editor must be highly configurable to give the authors an environment they understand and can work with. People and software systems are what they eat and you can't deliver content your authors can't or won't capture. In the end, (though the details are another story) the value calculation of your entire endeavor is based on how much of what your authors know you can effectively capture for delivery.
  2. Allow authors to locate, create and manage associations and links among parts of content. On the web, links, tags that point elsewhere in the content, are everything. Rich content must contain rich links if it is to fulfill its intended delivery mission.Without support, links can be a nightmare to author and are notorious for breaking somewhere between creation and delivery. A major publisher found that when authors are forced to break their train of thought to create a link, fewer links result despite their best efforts to find and create them.
  3. Allow authors to create content suitable for multiple audiences. In a multimedia world, content must be delivered in slightly different form to each segment of the total audience. Whether different delivery media, user interest or skill levels, product variations or what have you, every content provider faces a layered audience that wants even common content tuned to its unique needs. Your ability to support this kind of targeting is closely linked to the way you decide to manage your content and must be a consideration in selecting the CM software you will use.
  4. Facilitate collaboration and communication among knowledge providers. Rich content passes through many hands on its way to delivery. Add the pressure of deadlines and the situation can degenerate into chaos. Any CM system must support collaboration among actors within and outside the primary content site.Many vendors address this challenge with classical workflow software designed to support claims processing or other highly structured applications.This is usually too restrictive for professional knowledge workers and can be expensive out of proportion to its value. The answer is a CM environment based on individual decisions by each actor as to what thenext step in content preparation should be. While a system might set certain limits on whom could do what under what circumstances, laying out rigid workflow paths ahead of time almost always degrades the productivity of the intellectual process.
  5. Record and track revisions to content at a granular level. As information moves ever faster, knowing how it got to its current state becomes a growing factor in satisfying your audience. One approach to this has been to keep each version of a document in work, comparing each version to the previous to determine what has changed.This approach leaves much to be desired, like not being able to find the changes without running the compare program. Moreover, the comparison method doesn't collect information about who made changes and for what reason. A better approach is to make content revision a specific transaction and support it with tools and tagging. Revision tracking can add much to the content management process. Some publishers, for example, tie revisions to specific projects, turning them on selectively as events merit.
  6. If possible, keep content in its original state. If you'e creating XML content, the best approach is to keep the XML in its originally authored format until time for delivery.Some CM approaches translate the content into a proprietary (often database) format, and then retrace the process to extract the XML. This can be made to work somewhat but suffers from the fact that rich content structures tend to have problems when theyre mangled and glued back together again. Moreover, the transformation is based on complex computer processing so these systems become resource hogs as soon as the volume and complexity of the content grows.
  7. Reuse portions of content in multiple places but keep the ownership centralized. Frankly, beyond sharing inherently common content like warnings and boilerplate, the entire concept of "reuse" is somewhat overblown. You may find that content authored for one place in your collection is difficult to lift and use elsewhere without at least some modification. Change even one character in order to reuse content and you aren't really reusing but paraphrasing. Some vendors suggest that you deal with this by breaking your content down into ever-smaller pieces so you can collect them in different ways for reuse. Beware; the complexity and risk grows in direct proportion to your usage.
  8. Keep the content safe and under control. I list this last because everyone knows that controlling access and data integrity is part of CM. Vendors, especially those from the database world, often lead with this function and construct their demonstrations around it (given that authors spend, on average, only 5 percent of their time in the CM system, one might wonder what this adds.) In truth, most do the basics well, making it less of a differentiator than a ticket punch. The important variable in this area is the extent to which a system must "decompose" rich content in order to manage it. Content richly tagged in XML (or SGML)often contains structures simply not capable of being snipped and laid end to end. Systems that require this kind of content fragmentation limit the richness of content they can fully support and are likely to encounter technical problems.

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