Content management A row of stone spheres - managing the stone "content"

Published on February 17th, 2014 | by Rahel Bailie

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Managing Content in the Manner It Deserves

Compared to the orderliness of data management is the relatively unpredictability of content. As we saw in the previous article, there is a big difference between having technical accuracy and the nuance of language. Technical professionals who deal with data management want to do things like insert values into content. A typical example would be:

Hi <name>

We’re really happy to confirm that you’ll get <discount> towards your first purchase. You’ve picked our <product type> which will be delivered to <address> once every <schedule>. If you’d like to make any changes to your boxes, go to your delivery page.

Well, this example may not be so typical. In this case, the copy has been written very carefully to avoid any embarrassing results. But even so, it’s not such a straight forward endeavour when this is translated into one of the languages where the nouns are gendered.

Databases versus content repositories

The difference between a database and a content repository is not exactly clearly defined. The main difference can be reduced, by purists, to “additional metadata”. But to the average industry professional, that could be interpreted in many different ways. I like the concise definition in Wikipedia, which describes a content repository as “a store of digital content with an associated set of data management, search and access methods allowing application-independent access to the content, rather like a digital library, but with the ability to store and modify content in addition to searching and retrieving. A content repository thus typically forms the technical underpinning of an application such as a Content Management System or a Document Management System. It functions as the logical storage facility for content.”

In other words, it’s like a database, but with better ways of editing and controlling the content. Brilliant! It’s worth reading the entire definition (found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_repository) because database designers may say that designing the database properly, it will do the job. And to this, I would counter that designing the database with an interface and features that do the job means that the database has just been turned into a content repository. But I digress.

Advantages of a content repository

Working with content in a repository gives the users who work in the repository  more control over the content. The interfaces are more suited to the needs of the authors so they can work on content in all of its complexities, and push content through the various stages of its lifecycle. These functions include:

  • Access control – Having user logins ensure that only authorized users have access to the appropriate content areas.
  • Audit trail –  Hand-in-hand with a login function is recording any changes to the content to the person who made the changes.
  • Authoriing and editing controls – Authors can add, edit, or delete control. They can also re-order content, to make more contextual sense to readers, or in some systems, transclude content (to make specific re-usable content chunks seem like they have been recreated in multiple places when, in fact, there is only one source with multiple “shadow” instances elsewhere).
  • Link resolution – a particularly important function in component content management systems, the links between content that may have been moved or transcluded must be resolved so that when the content is delivered, it retains its integrity.
  • Versioning – Content in the repository may exist in different revision levels, as different chunks need updates at different times, and the repository must be able to distinguish between the versions and know how to assemble content for delivery. The versions may be sequential (first, second, third) or the versions may be differentiated by language, market, device, or other factors.

This is not, by any means, a complete list, but it gives you an idea of some of the content needs that can be better served by managing it in a content repository.

It might be worth exploring the grey areas where it’s not clear when something is content and when it is data, and how to figure out how that should be handled – but that is definitely a topic for a different article.


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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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