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Published on March 11th, 2009 | by Rahel Bailie


Protecting your corporate content assets means easy interchange

To get the most out of your content, you need to be able to re-use it in appropriate places, rather than recreate content for each new situation. It follows, then, that re-using content requires that content be in a format that lends itself to re-use.

If you’re the type of person who likes to write, think, edit, and then publish , tink about the pain of re-using content from an article created in a word processing program to a blog entry. You had to go through and check things like apostrophes, quotation marks, and dashes to make sure you didn’t end up with question marks in the middle of your carefully-crafted prose. That can be called “dumb work” – silly rote tasks that don’t add any value at all.

Now, multiply that dumb work by millions when content gets locked into a proprietary system. You may have a million-dollar content management installation, but what happens when you want to use your content elsewhere, or when you need to migrate content between your behemoth system and specialty systems, such as a component content management system?

Unless there is a vested interest by, say, a competitor in providing some sort of import wizard from a specific proprietary format into their own format, your content is now held hostage by the vendor’s system. This used to be considered good business sense, as it locked you into their system for long periods of time. In today’s world, however, it’s considered a pretty bad move on everyone’s part. The recognition that content is a valuable corporate asset whose value increases with its potential for re-use has changed the game.

Re-use is a concept that is often discussed at too low of a level within the corporate sphere. There are several kinds of re-use:

  • Single-sourcing. This isn’t a particularly sexy type of re-use, but is the industrial workhorse of re-use that is the backbone of any product or service provider that produces technical content (user, installation, maintenance, and quick-start guides, training material, knowledge bases, and so on). The ROI on standards-based, re-usable content becomes critical, particularly in cases where translation are involved.
  • Integration. Content among departments, divisions, or partner companies may need to be mashed together to create a cohesive whole. Saving troublesome conversion steps toward a common format is a huge time-saver, and eliminates the worries that the conversion process has eliminated or corrupted critical content that affects the quality and integrity of the end result.
  • Convergence. This re-use case is bringing together content from various types of sources, such as mixing single-sourced content with user-generated content in a knoweldge base. The need to “round-trip” content relies on being able to get content in and out of systems easily and quickly, with as much automation and as little human intervention as possible.
  • Syndication. Content flies (or should fly) outside of the organization, in the form of news releases, event announcements, and so on. If content doesn’t conform to the standards-based formats – microformats is the most common example – then the value of automating syndiations is lost, with a default position of cutting and pasting into multiple sites.

Having content that can “play nice” with other systems is a key component of a good content strategy. Because large-scale content projects are dependent on the technologies that manage the content, it’s critical to look at how the system treats the content, and how open the content is for re-use in strategic ways.

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

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