There are two types of people involved in websites today: those who see content as an asset, and those who see it as a commodity. The latter better start looking for a new career.Last week I talked to someone whose organization had just installed a portal. The homepage took 30 seconds to download, and that was just the beginning of the trouble. Staff demanded that the portal be removed so that they could go back to the simpler, more efficient website.
The previous week I talked to someone whose team was being forced to use portal software. They absolutely hated it, and everyone they knew within the organization who had been forced to use it, hated it too. It seems that someone high up in IT had decided that portals were the way to go.
A couple of weeks ago I had an email from someone who has a battle within his organization over whether to have a portal or a website. Those who support the portal think webpages are not necessary and will be expensive to maintain. They think it's just fine to put the stuff up as PDF or Word files in folders, with only the most basic navigation.
The people who think of content as a commodity want to store it in a data warehouse, that gets filled up as quickly and cheaply as possible. The same people think that there has to be a way to automate the creation of metadata. "We've spent the last 50 years focusing on the "T" in IT," Peter Drucker famously stated. "We'll spend the next 50 focusing on the "I"."
You will not maximize the value from most of your information if you store it in a warehouse. Information is the communication of knowledge, and content is the information of the Web. How you write something, how you organize and present it, has a major influence on how much value it can create.
Where do you want to be in five years time? If you want a future in IT, you've got to get into management. There will be two things you will be managing: people and information. You will be automating, outsourcing or offshoring all the "T" work. The interesting "I" work will increasingly shift away from the challenges of storage, to the challenges of publishing.
If you're running a website, you are an accidental publisher.
Publishing is as much about what you don't publish as what you do. Resist the call of the warehouse, and the illusory promise that technology will solve all your problems. Content is your asset and it is an asset that grows in value the less of it you publish.
Quality metadata, classification, navigation, and layout are crucial to the success of your content. The people you are trying to reach, whether they are staff, consumers, citizens or students, are being asked to spend their most valuable resource on your website: their time. Waste so much as a second of this highly impatient reader and you risk losing them. Deliver them quality quickly and they will thank you with their custom.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.