Let’s Replace “Content” with “Story”

We used to be in the writing business. Then we were in the communication business. Now we are in the content business. It’s probably getting time to change the monika again. I have a candidate: “story.”

There have always been two schools of thought about the word “content”. Some love it. Some hate it.

I hate it. It is an ugly generic word chosen specifically not to mean anything specific. We can’t say “writing” because sometimes we use pictures. Etc. Etc. It is the sort of word you use when you don’t care what is in the container. (Many years ago I asked a Documentum rep what Documentum meant by content, to which he replied, “anything you can store in Documentum.”) read more

The Age of the Content Manager

When I started my career in tech writing, it was the age of the writer. Tech writers tended to work independently on a single book for months at a time. Better, for many, they not only got to write the book, they got to design it and shepherd it through the publication process. At the end of the process a book arrived from the printer and you got to keep a copy — I still have several. It was, from beginning to end, your work, your product, your book.

Fewer of us get to work that way today. We now live in the age of the content manager. Writers contribute chunks of text to content management systems that spit them out in various combinations. There is no end-to-end ownership. Not everyone works like this, but it is an increasingly dominant model, and the model which just about every pundit in the industry is urging companies to adopt. read more

The War Between Content Management and Hypertext

Summary: As content consumers, we love hypertext. As content creators, we still believe in content management, even after years of disappointment. Content management disappoints because it does not scale for culture. It is time to embrace hypertext instead.

I should know better. Every time I put the word “hypertext” in the title of a post, my readership numbers plummet. Hopefully “content management” will help pull them up this time, because as content professionals we need to come to terms with hypertext. read more

We Must Remove Publishing and Content Management Concerns from Authoring Systems

In a comment on my Content Wrangler article, It’s Time to Start Separating Content from BehaviorLaura Creekmore said (emphasis mine):

[T]his conversation has brought to mind some thoughts I’ve had recently, and I think this is an even more difficult issue. Because eventually, we’re going to come up with all the technological fixes we need to resolve the issues above. However, right now, content management systems have already outstripped the technical interests and abilities of the majority of content creators and subject matter experts with whom I work. [And no, I’m not slamming my clients here. :) They are really smart people.] When we require advanced technical knowledge in addition to advanced subject knowledge in order to fully take advantage of the capabilities of our content systems, we’re not going to get the results we want. We have to NOT ONLY figure out how to do this, but we ALSO have to figure out how to make it easy and intuitive. I will say, I also don’t mean to slam these efforts — they are critical steps, and this is essential thinking. I’m just saying, please, let’s not stop this effort once we’ve made something POSSIBLE [as we have done with so many current CMS]. Let’s not stop until we’ve made it a reality for all content creators. read more

Time for Content Management to Come out of the Closet

Two recent blog posts, Structured Content is Like Your Closet by Val Swisher, and Content Strategy Can Save Us All From Slobdom by Meghan Casey, both illustrate how content management works today by analogy with a well organized closet. It is a perfect metaphor for current content management practice, and provides the perfect starting point for examining what is wrong with the current state of content management, and why (as I noted previously) people hate their CMS.

Am I a Content Strategist?

I’m a fan of emerging technology, and generally tolerant of emerging terminology, but when it comes to job titles I tend to the view that if it was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, it isn’t a real job. I have, on diverse occasions, decried attempts to replace the title “technical writer” with something else, maintaining that as long as that is what the job ads call it, that’s what the job is called.

Thus I have been reluctant to call myself a content strategist. Scott Abel’s recent interview with Barbara Saunders indicates I am not the only one having doubts about the title. Yet many of the people I interact with professionally call themselves content strategists, and more than once those people have used the #contentstrategy tag when tweeting about my articles or blog posts. I seem to write a lot about the issues that content strategists care about, yet still I find myself reluctant to get the content strategist tattoo. read more

Why You Hate Your CMS

Today, Alan Houser (@arh) tweeted:

Before I die, I want to hear somebody speak well of their CMS. Especially in #techcomm. Surely somebody must be happy with theirs.

To which I (@mbakeranalecta) replied:

Indeed, but the CMS model is wrong. Can’t manage large data sets on desktop model. Can’t have good implementation of a broken model.

Which needs more explanation than 140 characters allows. So here goes. The problem with CMS generally is that they apply one scale of solution to a different scale of problem. read more

The Importance of Feedback to CMS Health

The transition from DTP to structured writing continues to be a bumpy one, and content management issues continue to plague many implementations. In many cases, the content management strategy depends on writers structuring things properly and they fall apart when writers fail to do so. For instance, reuse of chunks of information ought to make translation easier and less expensive, by reducing the amount of text to be translated. But often, chunking presents a problem for translators, as described here, because the chunks turn out not to be as context-independent as they were supposed to be. read more

The petrified forest

A document may be flower, a rock, or a tree. That is, it may bloom for a day and be dead tomorrow, like a newspaper. It may last forever and never change, like Pride and Prejudice or King Lear. Or it may grow and change over the course of a long, if not endless, life like, say, the way a technical manual should, but usually doesn’t.