Saturday, February 23, 2008

Distributed Content Creation - Another Consultant Fantasy?

It’s probably on page two of the WCMS sales guy’s Powerpoint deck - “Our product will allow a subject matter expert, anywhere in your organization, to edit and create Web content.” When I was pushing WCMS solutions as a consultant, I talked about this all the time. Sounds like a great idea. And if you have a simple site that is published in one language for local consumption, it is certainly doable. But if you have a complex site and buy into the other big sales pitch, “single source” content, then things get tricky in a hurry.

There are two main problems I see all the time with being able to push content creation out to subject matter experts:
  • Complex Interfaces - SME’s in your organization already have a job to do, they might create content every now and then, but not very often. If the WCSM is hard to use and understand, and they have to be re-trained every time you want them to do something, they just won’t do it.
  • Complex Content Reuse - It is hard to get occasional WCSM users to think like people who use it every day. They don’t think about the potential impacts of a change they are about to make. If they are editing a content module that is reused on eight different pages, they need to check and see if the edit is valid in all contexts. If not, then they have to create a new version and hook that new version up to the page with all the correct metadata… they get in over their heads pretty quickly.

Here is an example of what I’m taking about. You have a product page that says your product is guaranteed for 90 days. You re-use the module that contains the “90 days” text in all your product pages. If the guarantee on one of your products changes to 180 days, and the product manager is tasked with updating the product content on the Web, he very likely to just go to the WYSIWYG editor, change “90 to “180″ and republish the page - not realizing that he has just changed the guarantee to 180 for all product pages because the module is re-used. They just don’t think like a Web content specialist, it’s not their job.

After a few of these high-profile screw ups, even if the mistake gets caught and never goes live, the SMEs will start to find reasons why they are just too busy to take on the job of updating Web content and the job will come back to the Web editorial staff.

The best way to make this work is to very carefully carve out specific content that can be maintained outside of the editorial department and building this content in a very simple manner, with as little re-use as possible, so the SME can be confident that they are not causing problems by making their changes.

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