Content Management Tidbits

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Archive for June 2008

Succint Wisdom: Read the Bible (or Write It)

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Proselytism? Yeah, in a sense. The bible, here, is a document called “editorial guidelines”. Anyone or any entity publishing any kind of information should have theirs.

When you start working for a company, the very first thing to do is to ask them for their guidelines, and learn them by heart. You, as a content manager, will be the high minister in charge of compliance and consistency. Your role is almost sacred, in that sense.

And, as the title suggests, if there are no editorial guidelines stop losing time reading this blog, and start writing them. It’s your big chance: you’ve been just upgraded from minister to prophet.

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Written by Paola

June 30, 2008 at 10:14 am

2.0 Killed Content Stars?

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Some years ago I’ve been asked by someone very hip and very into the whole “2.0 thang” [1] whether I felt threatened by the tidal wave of user-generated content. He went on noting that even journalism was dying and that Britannica’s home page would soon sport a brand new Wikipedia logo. His eyes were glistening as he predicted the end of information as we know it. He conceded that, still, companies could try to ride the tide with a massive SEO investment, but other than that my role was going to be useless. Well, he didn’t put it so bluntly, but it was implied. His question/statement bugged me a little bit, but, as most bugging stuff, gave me also food for thought. So, let me use it to reflect a bit on the Internet and the future of knowledge. Nothing big, really: just a couple of random thoughts.

Why do you need a content manager when you have hordes of users eager to create information? (psst: auctoritas and bias detection. Keep these two concepts in mind: we will need them in a few seconds.)

I do not predict the future, but I have a privileged point of view because I am a specimen of content managers’ dying breed, but also an eager content-creating user and a clueless “let’s-google-for-info” lamer[2]: let me try to share with you the sight from this little vantage point on my sinking Atlantis.

  1. As a lamer, I represent the average Internet user. I detest the condescending opinion that the majority of Internet users are stupid, but it’s true that we, as a vast percentage, are clueless to most areas of knowledge. I do have my little expertise as a user (see below), but when it comes to–let’s say–chemistry, or geopolitics, I am as square as your average Joe. That doesn’t make me stupid. It makes me clueless. And when I’m clueless I naturally seek for guidance. And that’s when the old good principle of auctoritas comes in handy.
    Let’s take geopolitics: everybody agrees that Noam Chomsky is a great academic. So, based on the weight of his auctoritas, I decide to read his writings to get me started in this fascinating world. I can see some of you are frowning. There’s no need to: remember the second word? Bias detection? I am sure you can already see where this is going.
  2. I am also a content-creating user, since I am fairly knowledgeable in some areas. Let’s take music for example. With my decent share of records and readings under my belt, I’m going to read the review of an upcoming album by a new band on Tumbling Rocks (a mainstream magazine that’s not going to hit your newsstands, don’t worry). The album is released under the label Acme Intl, and I know that Acme Intl has invested a lot of money on this band, like some double-spread ads on Tumbling Rocks. I can already detect the bias of a magazine that has to juggle between an honest reporting and a publisher that wants to keep those spreads going. It can be a thoughtful bias (“a young, talented band – a promising debut”) or it can be a shameless one (“Meet the new Beatles”). In any case I can detect it, if not predict it verbatim. Bias detection gets me to the core of the report, which I may still find useful and interesting, because the magazine has access to some information I could never get elsewhere (auctoritas). Bias is not a bad thing per se: if it’s open, it gives you a powerful cognitive context and lets you sift the information more accurately. So, you frowning reader, yes: Noam Chomsky is worth reading, but I agree that I wouldn’t want to resort to him as the auctoritas [3].

Everything gets even messier when the source is collective. You may be aware of the radical stances taken by the single author, but if the filter of the collective intelligence is not strong enough, how can I be sure that what I’m reading on a wiki is accurate and up-to-date?

Now: where does all this take me as the titanic Roy Batty of content managers? Let’s say that I do believe in collective intelligence. And as a user I can heavily contribute to it. But I (still) cannot rely on it.

So, the answer to the first question is: no, I do not feel threatened by user-generated content.

Because the collective intelligence still needs a middleman to convey its knowledge to the world. I am not a publisher: I am a filter.

[1] Sorry for the trivialization, I have the utmost respect for the amazing things that have been accomplished in the last years, a little less patience with people whose knowledge of the Internet seems entirely based on the concepts of “social networking”, “long tail” and “collective intelligence”.
[2] From the Merriam-Webster: “slang: a person who is not in the know”.
[3] Unless we’re talking about linguistics. The guy invented this, you know?

Written by Paola

June 16, 2008 at 10:26 am

Posted in the role

“Who the Heck Am I?”

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Don’t worry, I’m not on the brink of an identity crisis. Though, job-wise, I had to face a couple.

Job hunting is a difficult task, no matter how good your CV looks and how self-confident you sound. But this is not going to be the umpteenth “land the job you always dreamt of” how-tos (if that ultimate how-to exists I’d like to read it, by the way!). I just want to reassure people working with content (CMs, editors, etc.) who are browsing job ads. I am positive they bumped into some calls for application that made them question their experience and profile — been there, done that.

Let’s make an example, taken from a popular job directory: somebody is looking for a Web Content Manager, who will manage online seasonal updates (OK), with a proven experience in working under pressure (OK), and who’s able to communicate with external suppliers (OK) on technical integration (errr… mk), has a solid knowledge of Javascript and CSS (s-s-s-olid?) and can develop widgets (!).

You can substitute Javascript and CSS with Photoshop and Flash, and “can develop widgets” with “is a Dreamweaver guru”: what they’re looking for is people working on the interface — the front end. Other times, a Content Manager is requested, but the specifications depict a Content Management System Consultant (Interwoven, WebSphere, you name it): that is, someone who works on the software that manages the content, and not on the content that’s managed by the software.

Confusing, isn’t it? Even more so, when you realize that the Dreamweaver guru will have to write the content too, and be an eagle-eye proofreader. “It must be me: I’m not skilled enough”, that’s what you’re thinking while you read the specs.

I have good news for you: there’s nothing wrong with your experience. Well, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a designer or a developer who can write and proofread, either: I am sure they have their good reasons for looking for such a profile — and if that’s you… then yay! But that doesn’t mean you have to invest your last paycheck in the animal books series or that you have to learn Ruby on Rails overnight to find a job. You must know what Ruby on Rails, or Javascript, or CSS, or CMS template mean, though. Because you are more than likely to be involved in the design process, helping the developers defining the structure of the content so that they can turn it into templates or giving your opinion on which elements the CSS should highlight in the output.

You have to be well aware of how the format you want your content to have will impact the back end (that is, the software managing it) and the front end (that is, the final output). And vice versa. You can’t let someone else decide which part of the content is important, what is the relationship between the single documents, or which elements will be used in an interface. That is the content manager’s job: you are not (only) a writer.

And if what I just wrote doesn’t make sense at all to you… you’d probably want to spend a night or two studying before you hit that “Apply for a content manager position” button.

Update: on the other hand, sometimes recruiters are not very demanding when it comes to skill sets. I just came across a listing looking for “content managers” to entry data in a CMS. We come in all sizes and shapes, don’t we?

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Written by Paola

June 5, 2008 at 8:16 am

Posted in the role

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