Book Review: Content Management Bible, 2nd Edition

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CIDM

June 2006


Book Review: Content Management Bible, 2nd Edition


CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director

Those who have already read the 1st edition of Content Management Bible are not likely to find much that is new in the 2nd edition. Boiko has updated the terminology he uses, added quickstart sections, included sidebars by many industry experts and practitioners, and completely rewritten the last section of the book which describes the technical components of a content management system.

The overall organization of the books remains the same:

In Part I, Boiko defines what he means by content.

In Part II, he defines what he means by content management.

In Part III, he examines the process of building a business case for content management in one’s organization.

In Part IV, he describes the process an information architect might use to design a content management environment.

In Part V, Boiko explains the process of building a CMS from the perspective of conversion, programming, and IT infrastructure.

In his introductory section, What is Content?, Boiko differentiates content from information. Content, he argues, contains information, is formatted, and has structure. Without format and structure, content cannot be managed by computer systems. He notes correctly that formatting alone is insufficient for content to be managed. Formatting often obscures the underlying structure of the content. For those information developers who have been told by vendors that unstructured content in desktop publishing systems can be magically converted to structured XML based on format alone, Boiko has sound advice. He argues that “structure based on formatting alone may be ambiguous, incomplete, unintended, and inaccurate.”

Boiko goes on in his second section to define content management as the process of “collecting, managing, and publishing content.” Although he argues that content management is about more than the web, he focuses in his description on web-based delivery of information. In technical communication, we certainly are concerned with web-based delivery. However, we also must consider other forms of delivery, including print publication, PDF, and help systems, as well as newer forms of delivery to PDAs, mobile phones, and more. From our wider perspective on content delivery, Boiko’s emphasis on web content is limiting. At the same time, Boiko provides useful information on the specification and selection of a content management solution for technical information development.

The opening chapter in the third section describes how a small to medium-sized organization might implement a content management system. Even so, the task may seem daunting to those reading the details even in this overview chapter. I recommend reading a few more of the chapters in Part III. Boiko explains how to build a business case and develop requirements before selecting any hardware and software. Too often, I find organizations that are so focused on “buying something” that they make expensive mistakes. It almost seems as if the money to purchase a CMS is burning a hole in their pockets. The result is often a costly mistake. To be effective, CMSs for technical information must be focused on handling components of content below the document, chapter, or section. In fact, it is probably best if any unit of content can be handled as a separate component in the CMS database. However, the vast majority of CMSs on the market do not handle components at the required level of granularity.

By reviewing Boiko’s discussion of requirements and carefully developing requirements for your own project, you’re likely to avoid buying something that simply will not meet your needs. Beware, especially, CMSs being foisted on you by your IT organization. Just because your company has already invested in something doesn’t mean that it is usable for your situation.

Much of the rest of the more than 1100 pages in the Content Management Bible are devoted to designing your content management system. Boiko explains in great detail how to select appropriate metadata. In fact, he outlines five types of metadata for you to consider: structure, format, access, management, and inclusion. He goes on to define publication types and content type, although I find myself confused by descriptions of content types, such as press releases, that appear also to be kinds of publications.

If you’ve ever wanted to know about the details of the XML world, Part V is a great resource. Boiko explains all the acronyms, from DTD to Xlink. Most importantly, he explains the issues behind content processing, which I find are often neglected. If you hear XML gurus and product vendors throwing around words you’ve never heard of, like the DOM and WebDAV, you’ll find understandable explanations here. Boiko provides real insight into the inner workings of the content management systems you may end up using. If you’re into building your own CMS, the information in Part V is critical.

Boiko’s book is not for the faint of heart. Readers may find themselves overwhelmed by definition after definition, accompanied by multi-item bulleted lists. However, content management is probably more complicated to design and implement than most information developers imagine and most vendors would like us to believe. It’s simple to take legacy publications, convert them to some form of XML, put them into a content management system, and pretty much end up where you started. Lots of time, effort, and expense with very little to show for it!

From that perspective, Boiko’s book is invaluable. Even by reading selected sections that function more like encyclopedia articles, you will appreciate the design and planning process you need to employ if you are to effectively and efficiently implement a content management system. Boiko helps you understand what you’re getting into much better than the vendors who insist that all you need is their magical, handy-dandy conversion tool. CIDMIconNewsletter

JoAnnHackos

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