The Content Management Bible


December 2002

The Content Management Bible

CIDMIconNewsletter Jonathan Price, President, The Communication Circle, LLC

Here’s a 966-page ball of wax about content management-quirky, personal, a bit disorganized, but full of sad experience.

Bob Boiko has clearly worked in the trenches, and he tries to peer over the confining walls to tell us where content management stands in relation to other fields. For a newcomer, for example, he explains how content management has grown from disciplines such as document management, information technology (IT), multimedia, documentation, library science, software development, and knowledge management. His derivations are broad but useful, and his distinctions help us see how amorphous and sprawling content management really is. He emphasizes the emergent behaviors made possible by content-management systems-payoffs, such as personalization, single sourcing, e-commerce, and online communities.

The book is a Bible in one sense: Boiko lays down the law, defining data, information, and content. (“Content is information plus data.”) He includes functionality as part of content but gives text the lead. And metadata rises above mere content, naming the elements, like God creating the world. Boiko even invents a name for the human who manages metadata-a metator-a new word combining editor and metadata, with overtones of navigator and change agent. The view from these definitions is exhilarating, like standing on Mount Katahdin on a clear day.

But just as the Bible stems from biblia, many books, Boiko has bound together five volumes in one. The first provides these ex cathedra definitions of content, the next gives an overview of content management. Then he describes content management from the perspective of a manager, an information architect, and grunts (low-level staffers, programmers, and IT folks).

So even though the book is full of instructions, action items, and tips on what we ought to do, the order is not chronological. In the part aimed at managers, for instance, we learn how to staff a content-management system, secure a mandate, do requirements, pick hardware and software, create the system, and roll it out. When we move to the part for information architects, “the wheel of content management” returns to its beginning, and we start from scratch again. That wheel keeps rolling on, pulverizing our sense of time.

To avoid confusion, then, dip into this book here and there. Look topics up. Do not expect to read through from cover to cover, without a strong pot of coffee.

If you accept the poor architecture of the book, you will pick up some very useful tools for doing-and explaining-content management. For instance, Boiko has a great chapter showing how to decide whether you really need a content-management system. He develops a formula for estimating the complexity of your content, taking into account the amount of information, the number of contributors, the pace of change, and the sheer number of publications. The results tell you how badly you need a content-management system and how soon.

He even walks you through the process of campaigning for a content-management system, creating a document inventory, developing a preliminary project plan, politicking for support, securing a project mandate, and working through the requirements documents.

On every page, Boiko reveals his own tactics, disappointments, and suspicions; the personal background provides fascinating detail, but sometimes I felt as if I were locked in a room with someone who has not been outside for a few years. You’ll probably find yourself skipping, picking, and putting in yellow stickies, as I did.

When you chance upon a topic that you care about, you’ll find practical advice, with steps you can carry out and cautions that ring true. Following Boiko, you will fill your desk with plans, specifications, assessments, revisions, progress reports, and guidelines. Many of these checklists seem useful enough to adapt to your situation.

And behind the prose, you can hear how many presentations Boiko has made. Over the years, I gather, he has had to respond to a lot of questions, from a wide range of managers, and he has developed reasonable answers. For instance, within the big-think chapters, he has sanded the topics down, simplified the ideas, and organized the order of presentation quite well. You may find his explanations worth borrowing for your next meetings with clients, sponsors, or higher-ups.

Like Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton in Content Critical (Prentice Hall 2001), Boiko knows how to pitch the naïve manager, but where they build on the analogy with traditional print publishing, he goes electronic. For instance, he sorts content management out into three main activities, which he misleadingly calls systems. (The activities do not actually depend on separate computer systems but grow out of a mishmash of interlocking and overlapping programs).

Collecting the Content

Collecting the content involves authoring new material, acquiring existing content, converting it all into your own system, and pulling it together in pages, documents, or whatever.

Managing the Content

Managing the content involves creating a repository, running some kind of administrative system, handling workflow, and maintaining connections.

Publishing the Content

Publishing consists of creating templates, services, and infrastructure to deliver the content to many different audiences, in multiple formats.

Where McGovern and Norton focus on making the case for electronic publication as a form of publishing, Boiko gives the back of his hand to books, magazines, and manuals. He gets into much more detail about the actual process and harks back to his paradigm (collection, management, and publishing) so often that you begin to think he has patented the trio.

A Bible this ain’t. But if your organization is headed into a content-management system or if you are joining a firm that already uses a content-management system, you should browse through this heavy volume, bending down pages for revisiting, and absorbing his broad vision. In this way, although Boiko is no Moses, he may turn out to be a generous if eccentric mentor. CIDMIconNewsletter

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