Those who created information rarely had to worry about the impact of what they wrote. Until the Web.A key element in journalistic training is studiously avoiding thinking about the impact of what you're going to write. Good journalism is about finding out what needs to be said and saying it regardless of the consequences.
This insight was given to me by a friend, Fredrick Wacka, as we discussed the need to measure the impact of content on the Web. There's a definite ring of truth to what Fredrik was telling me.
In fact, if you extend this thinking out into the literary world, there is a definite disdain for writers who write for an audience rather than for themselves. The idea that you might consider the consequences of your writing is not for the true artist.
What this sort of thinking leads to is a dissociation between the act of writing and the actions that writing might provoke. The writer becomes focused on the writing itself. Once the writing is completed, their job is done. What happens next is not their concern. Until the Web.
A similar way of thinking is that all content has value merely because it exists. The value is in its existence rather than in the actions it might provoke. If a piece of content is interesting to one other person, then that gives it value. A piece of content that has value for just one person is thus given as much weight as a piece of content that has value for 10,000.
Content created for an intranet or a public website needs to be viewed very differently. Such content must pay its way. It must show that it is delivering value to the organization.
People come to the Web to act, to do things. Citizens come to a government website because they want to renew passports, or find out if they qualify for grants. Young people go to university websites because they want to check out course availability.
The active medium of the Web creates a challenge for many traditional writers. They are simply not used to being measured on the results that flow from their writing. They are used to creating help documents, sure. But they are not used to hearing, on a day-to-day basis, whether these help documents are actually helping people.
Until the Web, the act of creating content and the impact that content had on the reader were not really connected. But the Web opens up a window through which we can look and see if the content is actually delivering on its objectives.
Web management is testing-driven. It's about establishing a set of key customer tasks and then developing and refining a website that allows these tasks to be completed quickly and easily.
More than anything else, it is content that will influence the successful completion of these tasks. Content is a driver of action as never before. We need web writers whose first and foremost concern is the action their content will drive.
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.