Human language is extraordinarily economical. We can say an extraordinary amount in very few well chosen words. This economy is essential to its function. Language is what in computer science is called a soft real-time system. That is, you have a limited amount of time in which to convey your meaning. After that, your audience will get bored or go to sleep, or the event you wished to discuss or avoid will have taken place. The night will have come without the fire being built. The deer will have fled without the arrow being loosed from the string.
One of the great hopes of content management is that taxonomy will save us. Developing a consistent and rigorous taxonomy, it is hoped, will remove inconsistencies from how describe and label things, enabling us to find and reuse content much more easily. It is a lovely vision, and it is doomed to failure.
The underlying assumption of this confidence in taxonomy is that differences in terminology are accidental and that if we simply assign clear and well defined meanings to the terms we use, we can all use the same vocabulary and communicate more clearly and with less ambiguity.
Not only is Every Page is Page One a viable way to tackle a large and complex subject, it is the only way to tackle the truly large and complex.
People regularly tell me that Every Page is Page One is fine for small simple stuff, but it won’t work for large and complex subjects. Actually, it is just the opposite. The book model will work okay for small and simple stuff, but it falls down completely when you are dealing with a large and complex information set. When things get really big and really complex, only an Every Page is Page One approach will work.
Confusion on this point is understandable. If you look at Every Page is Page One simply as a prescription for individual topics, then you will necessarily see it as dealing only with small subjects, since each Every Page is Page One topic by itself serves a specific and limited purpose.
The most important thing you can do to organize your Web content so that people can find it is to make it sticky. Making it sticky is more important than categorizing it or placing it in a hierarchy or taxonomy. It is even more important than linking your content set effectively. In fact, if you don’t make it sticky, neither of those other things are likely to matter much.
It is easy to think of the Web as simply a vast ocean of content. But if it were that, it would not work at all. What the Web actually is is a vast index of content. It is not a fixed index, like in a book, but a complex, dynamic, volatile, multi-stream index. For purposes of findability, how your content is organized on the Web comes down to how it appears in that index. And while you can definitely contribute to how it is indexed in small ways, its indexing is largely controlled by others. The Web organizes itself communally.
I argued in Too Big to Browse; Too Small to Search, that search works best when it has a large amount of content to work with. But it occurs to me that there is a really important caveat to be made, which I can best express as the difference between findability and searchability.
The distinction I want to make is not clear in the common usage of the words “find” and “search”. They are often used as synonyms, particularly in computer interfaces. But I think there is nevertheless a significant difference in the connotations, which points to a significant distinction we should pay attention to when we think about the findability of our content.
Findability is an intractable problem. This does not mean that we should not try to improve findability. World peace is an intractable problem, but it is still worthwhile to make a friend. Climate change is an intractable problem, but it is still worthwhile to plant a tree. Findability is an intractable problem, but is it still worthwhile to add a keyword.
Still it is important to recognize the that the problem is intractable, lest we waste too much of our time and energy for too little gain.