DXS16 crowd
Nearly 400 people are attending CMSWire's DX Summit. PHOTO: Robert Levy

CHICAGO — Your content is a mess. You know it and you know that, somehow, it is your fault.

You try to search for something but apparently the file you are looking for was not tagged the way you thought it might be.

You come across three separate price lists and can’t tell which is the most recent.

Your digital marketing assets look good but sound off key, or at least off message. Yes, your content is a mess.

Two speakers took on this subject at CMSWire's DX Summit, now in its second day at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel here: John Horodyski, partner in the Information Practice at Optimity Advisors, who took on the complex subject of metadata and Jason Froelich, customer advocate at WAVE Corp., who tackled the just as complex subject of everything else.

So with no further ado, following are seven reasons why you can't get your arms around your content.

Sloppy, Paper-Based Content

Your content is dirty. No, we are not suggesting you work at an adult-themed company. This is a variation of the long-standing issue of dirty data — that is, data that is duplicated with slight variations in each copy, or is incorrect or outdated.

This is also a problem that clogs up a content management system.

So how does this happen internally? Spreadsheets that go rogue are one example Froelich described. Say someone hangs on to a group spreadsheet and then updates it ad hoc. It is not getting backed up by IT, Froelich explains “and if that person leaves the company all that information goes with him.”

You don't have a 'content first' mentality. Instead, you are taking a 'layout first' approach to content — meaning you think first about how the content will look rather than its message and metadata.

This one is easy to fix, Froelich said. "Figure out what message you want to get across to your customers and then design. Getting it out to multiple channels that way is much easier."

Your processes are too printer-based. When the printer breaks, the process stops. Any process that requires hard proofs for editing or checking, or prints out final schedules for workers — say job jackets, falls in this category, Froelich said.

Crazy Work Processes

Your work processes are not rational or are too ad hoc. "Users take the path of least resistance," Froelich said. "They will use email to send a status update or pass information along the line or rely on file sharing. It can be very inconsistent and that makes it very difficult to track."

Froelich tells of one client that would hold 'Monday Madness meetings' in which the work that needed to be done for the week would be divvied out. "That made it difficult to forecast how long the project would take."

People Problems

Your company departments are siloed. Sometimes this is due to the office layout itself — one department is another building across town — and sometimes it is due to the surprisingly petty reason that the manager of such-and-such unit is a jerk. For whatever the reasons, siloed departments make implementing a corporate wide work process difficult, especially if one department is fine with how the current process works — say, the department whose manager is a jerk — while the other department is the one having trouble with the process.  User buy in can be extraordinarily difficult when the departments are separate from each other, Froelich said.

"If you spend 15 minutes fixing a problem that is occurring upstream you can save a surprising amount of time solving problems downstream," Froelich said. For example, people tend to hem and haw when it is suggested that the company introduce uniform standards for tagging metadata. "But then they waste 20 minutes or more searching for something because it is not tagged correctly."

You don’t have executive buy in for whatever changes you are trying to implement. This is probably the best, and sometimes the only, way to get people to change the way they work, Froelich said. "People don’t like change, especially with their work processes." Sometimes, he said, it may be a function of fearing their job will be eliminated with the automation. The top executives must address all of this. "They have to be the ones to say, 'this is how we are going to do it from now on, this is why, and that will be that,'" Froelich said.

The Importance of Metadata

You don't have a metadata strategy or if you do, you are not disciplined about enforcing it. Or worse, Froelich said, employees don’t realize how it works. "I've seen people take metadata and cram it into the file name."

This failing is perhaps the worst — metadata is one of the primary functions of good content, Horodyski of Information Optimity Advisors said, the others being workflow, rights management and governance. Indeed, metadata is a crucial part of these other elements as well. You can't, for instance, follow good governance practices without a supportive metadata schema.

"Content is the ultimate connection but without a foundational layer of metadata you can’t optimize and monetize the content," he said.

There is no one size fits all for designing a metadata policy unfortunately. "You have to understand how your users or customers want to interact with the content before designing the metadata and the user interface," Horodyski said.

For example, terms change — a lot, as does language — depending on the user base. "There about 800 new words and phrases that are added to the English language each year," he said. “So little of our modern language is written in stone."

Don’t believe him? Well consider the following, all officially part of the Oxford English Dictionary now:

  • LOLcat
  • Five-second rule
  • Mahoosive
  • Digital footprint
  • Duck face
  • Askhole
  • Nonversation
  • Errorist
  • Afterclap

Another reason to put a good metadata policy in place, Horodyski said, is that it will support emerging forms of content as well — Internet of Things, for example, or blockchain. Horodyski talks a little bit about this point in the following video.