The retirement of Google Reader (and the temporary deletion of the RSS extension to the Chrome browser) caused significant stir among faithful users recently. It also raised important questions about what really matters when it comes to Web content management.
It doesn't take a corporate chief content officer (CCO) to see that there's a disconnect between the way information is being distributed and how it is being consumed. In other words, there are too many sources of content and information and no single way of managing it all. However, more companies have or are creating CCO positions. The time is right for this.
RSS history lesson
RSS was named for what it did well, which was really simple syndication of website content. But the problem with it and with the plethora of RSS readers out there like Google's is TMI -- too much information. There are almost 11 million RSS feeds on the Internet, according to research firm BuiltWith. RSS readers are like a faucet you leave on all the time: Pretty quickly, the sink fills up and you have a mess on your hands.
Google's departure from the Reader business is complicated. Some say it got out while the getting was good. I agree with others who say that Google has begun the inevitable consolidation of its many beta products, including Google Health, which was shut off on Jan. 1.
Lists of several so-called alternatives immediately entered the blogosphere after the news of Google Reader's demise, including stalwarts such as Twitter, Digg and Reddit. None of these really works for me. I've found that if I like a site, I will bookmark it and leave it at that.
Content in context
Anyway, all of this is missing the larger picture, which is what you, the IT pro and business executive, need to do to reach your audience and customers in more effective ways -- by finding your way through all of the noise to deliver the right message to the right people.
RSS advocates believe that control of content should be in the hands of users. They're right, of course, but that belief doesn't consider the fact that disseminators of information need to be in control, too: Organizations must put in place content strategies to ensure that their content isn't just being thrown against the refrigerator, hoping it sticks.
Part of a sound content management strategy must take into account that there are no perfect tools. I can attest to that just by having worked in the technology news business since 1995. Most online publishing systems evolved from technologies for managing print products and are inherently kludgy. Remember PointCast and BackWeb? RSS was an elegantly simple solution to those old "push" technologies, but even RSS has splintered into several .xml variants that do the same thing, which is why you still see dozens of feed aggregators attached to most websites these days.
Seeing the big picture
In fact, the tools should be secondary to the content management strategy, and by extension to the leadership and corporate culture tasked with carrying it out -- including a chief content officer. And an effective strategy needs to see the big picture and integrate multiple systems across an IT infrastructure.
Here's an example. At a customer meeting held by Salesforce.com in Boston recently, Enterasys Networks Chief Customer Officer Vala Afshar spoke about an effort his company is making to tie machine-to-machine communications into efforts to improve customer relations. For instance, an alert could communicate to a sales or service rep that one of the company's networking products wasn't configured for maximum operating efficiency at a customer site. That information could also be used to automatically build out Enterasys' product knowledge base so it would be available to the next user who encounters the same issue.
We're hearing a lot of talk about how to become a customer-centric business. And while it's true that the customer is where you should focus your attention, the critical lynchpin in any strategy to reach and satisfy that customer is content. Content is still king and needs to be treated as such. It's past the time for companies to put the wealth of information at their disposal into the right hands and create teams that know how to collect, analyze and distribute that information.
Scot Petersen is the editorial director of TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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