Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

No model survives first contact with real content

At Content Strategy Forum 2013 in Helsinki, in a great presentation on “Deblobbing in the Real World”, Jeff Eaton said something that resonated deeply with me:

No model survives contact with real content.

explosion

I whole-heartedly concur.  But, something was still not right.  A week later, all became clear.  I  needed to tweak the sentence, just a little, to make things right with the world again. So here goes:

No model survives first contact with real content.

Better. Definitely expand “first contact” to mean the first few encounters with real content, but it’s an important distinction to draw out for anyone designing structured content. Why you ask? Read the rest of this entry »

Content Management: Back to Basics

One of my clients is about to go-live with the first phase of their content management programme this Summer. It’s not called that of course, it never is, but that’s what it really is. I’m made up for them. And after three hard years defining, crafting, and defending their business case, it took only one year to deliver.

My client is a media publisher; content is their business. They engaged us just over two years ago to help nudge their business case over the line and implement the content managed solution. What was supposed to take a couple of weeks ticking contractual boxes and reviewing requirements, ended up taking twelve months of real hard work trying to answer a very simple question:

  • What is content management to you and how do we do it effectively?

Time to ACT.

Here’s the thing, we needed to consider Audience, Content and Technology in that order, to ACT. I can’t remember where I first heard this term, but I believe is was something to do with Deane Barker. In our case:

  1. Audience. Our customers were mobile, digital savvy, and everywhere; yet we were not reaching them.
  2. Content. Our content was great and growing; yet we couldn’t get content everywhere it needed to be fast enough.
  3. Technology. Our home grown content management system (CMS) was mission critical; yet we knew it was no longer fit for purpose.

So we went basic to basics, embraced ACT, and focussed on content management.  We dropped the word ‘system’ from CMS. We also refrained from replacing ‘system’ with ‘strategy’ because we needed to understand and define what management means to the business, before planning to do it effectively. So, all our attention was on management.

We then embarked on a journey of discovery. It wasn’t positioned as that at the time, more like a series of experiments (kaizens) that we  ran one by one, to learn by doing. Easier done than said.  We looked at the strengths and weaknesses across the business, then very quickly separated content management into three distinct areas; production, management and delivery. We also pulled together our collective experience gained working in the content business and concluded:

  • As a publisher, we knew how to produce great content, but were ill equipped for multi-channel delivery.
  • As an business, we were digitally immature but were getting more experience producing (structured authoring) and delivering (responsive design) content.
  • Across the board, we were struggling with content management that was negatively impacting both production and delivery.

Production and delivery systems rely upon a clear content management vision that defines how content is structured and accessed.  With a clear vision, production gets content in, delivery gets content out, and  management lies at the core.  The glue between these systems is not just the content.  In fact, in the first instance, the structure of content proved to be more important than the content itself.

CMS-ProductionManagementDelivery-600

Production.

We needed to get content in, from multiple sources, and to reduce duplication, for similar content to be single-sourced. Multiple content sources included other systems, other people, other companies, that were both internal and external to the business. Also, when referring to a specific piece of content, we needed a master that was always the single source of truth. That is quite a big ask we made of the content production team. However, that’s precisely what we needed to prevent garbage-in, garbage out scenarios arising in content production.

So we equipped our editorial teams with author-assisted tools to support the creation and assembly of structured and meaningful content.  These content production systems used metadata, taxonomies and content models to bake intelligence directly into the structured authoring tools that policed and punished all attempts to create bad content.

Delivery.

We rely on raw, self-describing, and modular content. It’s simply not sustainable for our management system to be tightly coupled to every possible outbound delivery channel. Both new and existing delivery system needed to be able to discover where and what content is available.  The delivery system is ultimately responsible for providing the optimal channel experience that it is supposedly the expert in. That separation of concern, content from format, truly brings focus, and with focus comes scale. Our role within content management is to equip our delivery systems with the means to self-serve well-structured and meaningful content, and then get the hell out of the way and let them do their job.

Management.

In both cases, if we are to effectively manage content, we need to define, design and structure content first. Then make that structure accessible to all.  Production and Delivery rely upon us getting management right.

So, back to the business case. That’s how we approached the problem. We went back to basics on content management. We parked production and delivery to begin with and focussed purely on management.  We defined our content architectures to structure and store content. Hypothesised about future content. Worried (a lot) about how best to store it (this is not the same as management; you don’t have to own what you are responsible for managing). Kept the content raw, self-describing and modular. Created content models, lots of content models. Built APIs to get content in, but just as importantly, to get content out. We had fun.

Then, with a clear content management vision, the originally planned CMS became a web publishing tool within the delivery tier. A decision was made to roll our own structured authoring web-based tool that used all the accessible metadata and structured content. The content itself was not stored in a CMS but elsewhere.  And so many other things fell into place.

Decisions were not as daunting to make now, not with a working understanding content management. That is not to say everything is solved now and the future is set in stone. It’s a works in progress. But content management is a tangible thing now, which goes a long way to getting decisions made and facilitating change.  That really helps.

Onto phase two…

Content APIs: A is for Access

Please watch this two minute video. It does an amazing job of describing the utility of APIs using a deck of playing cards.

Content APIs are on the rise because we need ubiquitous access to content.  For a while now, I’ve felt like our content management systems are being deployed as Roach Motels (see resources at the end), where content checks in, but it doesn’t check out. Forever locked into a single (web) channel with no easy way out.

A couple weeks backs, I explained why content APIs are becoming critical to those in the content business.  They help mitigate the Roach Motel problem.  The big guns are already reaping the rewards of their early investments in content APIs. Take Netflix, after just two years of deploying an API, it’s seeing a x37 increase in API usage, the majority of which is through internal consumption.

Today, let’s walkthrough through a couple of examples to drive home the point that APIs lower the bar to making content accessible: available to people, processes and products that potentially do not to contribute to the production or ongoing management of the content.

Read the rest of this entry »

CSForum 2013

So hot off the tails of a couple of amazing Confab conferences in both London and Minneapolis, comes CS Forum 2013.    This year CS Forum comes to Helskini with a Facebook community to boot.

I must confess; I’ve haven’t spent enough time in Helskini.  Always passing through.  Kinda silly really, given that it’s only a couple of hours away.  Time to right that wrong.

This will be my third CS Forum.  So, if you’re interested in content, and I know you are, come join us. It’s always fun and there so many smart folks to meet and learn from.

Get involved and see you there.

Why Content APIs

Have you been hearing a lot about APIs recently? Or maybe the Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) thinking that came out of NPR? It doesn’t matter whether you have or haven’t really. What’s important is that we understand why APIs are on the rise.

Why did the big guns invest heavily in APIs and are now reaping serious benefits. Netflix, NPR, Twitter, Facebook, Expedia, Guardian, Google, to mention a few, have well established APIs that grant third parties, that’s people like you, me and other companies,  controlled access to their functionality and content.  That’s right, these companies have created a playroom filled with shiny new toys (content and functionality) and have given us the key (API) to play with them.  But why?

What value do these companies see in APIs? Why do they continue to invest in them?  And how do I get me some API action?

Read the rest of this entry »

Meaningful HTML

Today you’ve been asked to create some meaningful HTML.  What’s that you ask?  We’ll get back to that.

However, you knew that this day would come and prepared for it.  You have a very simple, but workable content model jammed packed with meaning and structure.  You’ve already done the hard content modelling work and identified the key content types for your business.  For for each content type, you have:

  • A name.
  • A one line description of its purpose.
  • A list of its attributes and a one line description for each.
  • A clear understanding of the relationships it has with other content types.
  • Open and transparent agreement, across business, UX and technology, on all of the above.

So, back to the meaningful HTML task.  HTML was never designed to convey meaning.  It’s a display language. However, search engines, web crawlers and browsers need meaningful content to better display search results and deliver awesome customer experiences.  They can’t do that with a display language.  Microdata, RDFa and Microformats are popular Internet specifications that add semantics to HTML to make it meaningful.

You have a content model.  Let’s put it to work.
Read the rest of this entry »

I am not bored

David BeckhamOn Thursday, 16th May, David Beckham retired from the beautiful game.  Unplanned, I joined him.  I was out playing 7-a-side football that Thursday, scored the first goal. A left-footed scorcher into the top-right hand corner, and was turning up field to collect a second.  Then smash, someone took me out.  Hard.  I heard a massive pop deep down in my left leg.  I turned around to give some young scally a right dressing down but no-one was there.  I tried to lift my left foot and it was like jelly.  Game over.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Demand Vs On Schedule

ondemandWe want everything on demand.  From content to food.  But we are programmed to do things on schedule.  This year I’m running a number of mini life experiments to see if I can make long term changes to things that have been bugging me for, well, a long time.  Here’s the first, with a couple of lessons learnt, moving from an on-schedule to an on-demand mindset.
Read the rest of this entry »

Planning, Productivity and Progress – The Power of P

cookie-monster-letter-pI love the letter P.  A powerful plosive that you can’t pronounce without putting your lips together – go on, do it – and then POW!

We need to mind our P’s on projects, specifically around planning, productivity and progress.  All important.  Seldom meeting everyone’s expectations.  Because they’re hard and gnarly things to get right.  Across the board. Think about your current or past projects, how did you get on? So, so? Room for improvement?

There’s always room for improvement. We have to get better at doing them or continue to be average in our project outputs and outcomes.  And frankly, who strives to be average these days? Interested? Good.  This way.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Rise and Rise of Content Junk

The amount content we produced in 2011 alone exceeded the content created in all previous years combined. ALL previous years combined! We more than doubled the size of our digital content universe.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if all that content could get everywhere it needed to be today.  It can’t. Instead, it’s trapped in the applications (CMS, DAM,Word) and/or channels (e.g. Web, Email) that created it.  This is not a sustainable business model for many companies that create and publish content to better engage with their customers.

It’s stupid, costly and uncompetitive to create great content and not invest the time and effort to make it structured and meaningful. To make it future friendly. And yet the rate of growth for digital content continues to rise exponentially, more than doubling every couple of years.  It’s time to stop creating more content (junk) and start making content work more.

Read the rest of this entry »

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About Cleve Gibbon



I'm Cleve Gibbon, CTO at Cognifide where we are passionate about digital content.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently doing.

This year I plan attend a number of events. Hopefully I'll see you there. I'm easy to find as I'm always laughing. Find out more about me and get in touch!
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