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When it comes to managing Web content, it’s likely we’ll look back on 2011 as the year we finally nailed the coffin shut on the page-oriented Web. With the explosion of smartphones, e-readers and tablet PCs, we expect relevant content and compelling experiences anywhere and anytime. Multichannel publishing -- encompassing Web browsers, mobile apps and printed pages -- is no longer a luxury. It should be on your company’s strategic roadmap for 2012.
It’s an important business driver and it might require a new Web content management (WCM) strategy. Enterprises can no longer afford to maintain their digital presences simply as collections of Web pages designed for full-screen browsing. As the managing director for content at a large media company described her challenges to me last month, “We need to get our content in order and fix our Frankenstein back end.”
For too long we’ve assumed that Web pages are like printed pages and that Web-based rich media are comparable to television episodes and radio programs, only shorter. At first blush, they do appear so. But we now expect a level of interactivity and immediacy in our digital experience that far outstrips the capabilities of the page-oriented Web to deliver. First-generation WCM systems -- designed simply to capture, store and publish Web pages -- are rapidly running out of steam.
Mapping customer experiences
How, then, can we unravel a Frankenstein back end? Enterprises need to take a hard look at their overall digital strategy and plan their investments for a next-generation WCM platform. I believe that it is essential to focus on the customer experience and then map out how content fuels these experiences.
To begin with, we need to realize that there are elemental units of content, more granular than generic Web pages, electronic documents and audio programs. We can define content in terms of content types. Some examples include a “news article,” a “music album,” a “marketing plan” and an “instructional video.”
Content types are the useful, business-oriented items for connecting with customers. We can further describe and tag these content types with relevant fields (or metadata) that characterize this information. Thus, a news article is a text file and has such fields as “headline,” “byline,” “body,” “image” and “subject keyword.” A music album is an audio file and has such fields as “title,” “artist” and “genre.”
Finally, we need to pay attention to the field names -- they are the threads for weaving our interactive experiences across multiple devices. Wherever possible, we should use familiar terms that describe everyday business activities. Often we can organize metadata by taxonomies of predetermined terms, and thus specify the links among content types. For example, the byline for a news article is similar to the artist for an album track, and both can be defined as subcategories of a more general term, “content creator.”
More than the ‘right’ technologies
To get their content in order, enterprises must identify the right level of granularity for their information resources and then manage the underlying metadata using business-oriented terms. A next-generation WCM platform includes capabilities to manage content types and taxonomies to make the information both useful and actionable. Open source projects, such as Drupal and MindTouch, are pioneering the development of the essential content-savvy services, encompassing content types, metadata management and taxonomies.
Yet fixing the WCM system entails more than choosing the right technologies. It is also about defining and enhancing the relevant kinds of information-related components. We need to begin with a digital strategy that focuses on the underlying capabilities of a content infrastructure for powering Web experiences and for making content useful.
Geoffrey Bock is the principal of Bock & Co., a consultancy focusing on digital strategies for content and collaboration, and an author specializing in the business impacts of content technologies. He can be reached at email@example.com.