There is a brilliant post by Gerry McGovern today entitled Moving from a world of producing to a world of connecting. We have a tendency, McGovern argues, to think of creating value in terms of creating more things, when we should be more concerned with creating connections between things. In a network, he argues, connections between things are actually more valuable than the things themselves. (How valuable would your phone be if it could not make calls or access the Web?) McGovern concludes:
We must move to a work culture that focuses as much on the maintenance and improvement of what we already have, as on the production of new stuff. But more importantly, we must develop our skills of linking and bridge building. Because in a network, that’s where the real value lies.
This ties in very well with what I have been talking about in recent posts, particularly about content management and hypertext. Our approach to content management, traditionally, has been much more focused on creating more content, and cataloguing it, than it has been on creating connections between pages.
We see content reuse as a means to create more and more pages at less and less cost, but this is all about creating, not about connecting.
In some cases, reuse strategies are used to create variations on content. But in many cases (not all) the need being served by creating variations could be served as well or better by creating connections.
This points to something I think is very important, and distressingly easy to overlook. In a hypertext environment, one of the main builders of connections is how pages link to each other. But there is a vast difference between a page that is designed to operate as a leaf of a hierarchical tree and one that is designed to operate as a hub of its local subject space.
It is not a matter, therefore, of writing a page just as you would have in the past and then adding some links to it. It is a matter of writing a page from the beginning to be a node in a network of pages.
McGovern’s injunction to stop creating and start connecting what we have is not enough in itself, therefore. We have to transform what we have, and what we create in the future, into things that are designed to be connected, that accomplish their goals through their connectedness.
Hypertext is a bottom-up media. It is pages that create the network by how they connect to each other. Connecting pages is not a matter of cataloguing or categorizing pages without changing them, but of changing them so that they connect, and so that they work well when they are connected to.
This very much includes recognizing that the author is not in control of how pages are connected to. They can create links within the content set that they control, and it is important that this be done well. But the essence of hypertext is that everyone gets to contribute to the making of links. Your pages should be designed to work when other people devise their own ways of linking them and linking to them.
The skills of linking and bridge building that McGovern calls on us to develop, are not librarian skills, but writer skills. They are not practiced by other people on content artefacts that writers create, they are practiced by writers themselves as they create content artefacts that are connected and connectible, that build bridges and form strong foundations for others to build bridges to them.
This is what the Every Page is Page One approach is about. It is about creating connectible pages in an environment where the connection between pages is, in many ways, more valuable than the pages themselves. It is about recognizing the the most valuable thing that pages do is actually to create and accept connections.
This leads to another important idea: that the task before us is not about organizing content better, but about creating content better, and that this is so because in a hypertext environment, the way you organize content is by creating content that creates connections.
Creating content better is very much about creating less content, about focusing on connecting rather than producing. It is about reducing rather than reusing. But we can only reduce by connecting, and we can only connect by creating content that is connected and connectible.