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Published on April 15th, 2010 | by Rahel Bailie


Content Lifecycle

The issue of content lifecycle has been on my mind lately, particularly in the context of lack of awareness about content having a lifecycle, or a truncated awareness of content in terms of its lifecycle. If anything would jar me from my lethargy around posting to my site, this would be the perfect topic.

Perhaps the lack of attention to content lifecycle is a reflection of the lack of attention given to the topic on the Web. In fact, a Wikipedia search on the topic of the content lifecycle sent me to the topic of Content Management, where a brief mention of content lifecycle management involves “content distributions [sic] and digital rights” – if only it were that easy. The German version of Wikipedia has an article on the content lifecycle for Web content, which seems incredibly simple (Create > Publish > Archive? Really?) and is also tied to a content management system.

But, I’m telling you, this is wrong, wrong, wrong. At the risk of sounding like David taking on Goliath, I want to spend a couple of articles talking about the content lifecycle, and clearing up some common misconceptions. I’ll discuss  content without the attachment to a CMS, proprietary software, tools, or methodologies. It’s all about the content, front and center. Defining a content lifecycle What is a content lifecycle?

Just as in the information architecture world, there’s “big IA” and “little IA”, in the content world, there is “big content management” and “little content management”. The “little content management” is about getting content to work within a content management system; “big content management” is about having a content strategy to create a repeatable system that governs the management of the content, throughout the entire lifecycle.

The content lifecycle covers four general areas: the strategic analysis, the content collection, management of the content, and publication, which includes post-publication maintenance and a loop back to analysis for the next cycle. This lifecycle is present whether the content is controlled within a content management system or not, whether it gets translated or not, whether it gets deleted  at the end of its life or revised and re-used.

content lifecycle management

The critical aspect of the lifecycle is that it begins with the analysis quadrant. The saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” certainly applies to the lifecycle  of content that begins without a strategy. You can change how it produced, how it’s managed, which tools you use to control it, translate it or not, cut aspects out of it or not – if you have no strategy, you have no real rationale for the content you produce.

The other three quadrants are the tactical aspects of the content lifecycle.  They may not have the same allure as the strategic side (at least, not for me), but they are important, nonetheless. It’s where the rubber hits the road. Without the strategy, you may end up in an aimless wander, but without the tactical side, all you have is a good idea.

Next week: Dispelling the Top 10 Myths about the Content Lifecycle

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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,

16 Responses to Content Lifecycle

  1. Emma Hamer says:

    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Sun Tzu – The Art of War

    Loved the post, and totally understand the “rant” – Analysis is Key. “Prescription without proper diagnosis is malpractice in any field”. Looking forward to the next installments.

  2. seamus says:

    Rahel, very helpful, thank you. What I also find is that my content has a life of its own. It does go stale, but because I write about the narrow and emerging there is new information coming out all the time.

    At the moment I am interested in content refresh so I look forward to your next post, I hope that combined with this post will put arms around a virtual paper tiger.

  3. Larry Kunz says:

    Thanks, Rahel. This is extremely helpful.

    I’m a little surprised that you put Governance into the Analysis quadrant. I would’ve expected to see it in the Manage quadrant.

    I guess you’re saying that Governance is strategic — it’s about establishing standards — rather than tactical (carrying out the standards). Or is there more to it? I’d like to see more on the topic of Governance and what’s involved in it.

  4. Rahel Bailie says:

    Larry, though governance is one of those aspects that gets used throughout the lifecycle, I contend that the governance model must be set in the analysis phase, and then enforced throughout the remaining three quadrants. Good idea for a future post to discuss governance further.

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