An Article by Gerry McGovern Large websites often struggle to develop an efficient and cost- effective publishing model. Centralizing publishing ensures a consistent quality of what is published, but is often slow and frustrating. Decentralized publishing is faster and often more cost-effective, but can result in inconsistent quality, unless rigorous publishing standards are adhered to. There is a definite trend towards the centralization of information architecture: metadata and classification design, navigation, search, layout and graphic design. Because the Web is inherently a navigational space, readers like a consistent architecture. Of course, adhering to standard templates is also more cost-effective, faster to implement, and easier to manage. There is less consensus on what sort of publishing process to implement. The centralized model tends to work well where the organization does not have extensive publishing expertise. Many organizations simply do not have a history of publishing. Sometimes, staff don't have the skills or the interest in publishing content, whether to the intranet or public website. Often, such organizations don't have all that much to publish on an ongoing basis. Thus, a centralized model can work well, where a small central team coordinates and publishes content for the entire organization. One area of particular debate is in relation to metadata. Some believe that trained librarians (or similar professionals) should be responsible for the input of metadata. I believe that metadata needs to be as decentralized as possible. In fact, it needs to become core to the writing process. (But that's for another issue.) Centralized publishing is, by definition, restrictive. The publishing workflow tends to be slower and more convoluted. Sometimes, centralized publishing can be simply too restrictive. "Since the centralized group has tried to take over, it's all going South in a hand basket," Gail Bennett, who works for a major corporation, told me in an email recently. "They want full control for editing which makes no sense," Gail continues. "Instead of me changing one report link which takes about 30 seconds, I'm supposed to gather and send all the info up the road to sit in a huge priority waiting list. By the time they get to our edits weeks later, they're already outdated!" Such a situation is by no means uncommon. Where content needs to be published quickly, the central team often becomes a bottleneck. However, it's not simply a matter of allowing a publish-at-will approach. Allowing everyone to publish whatever they want whenever they want is a recipe for disaster. So, if you feel you need to decentralize, you must put in place proper structures. These include: * A style guide: This should cover style and tone, usage, glossary and references. Too many organizations create style guides and then never adhere to them. This is counter- productive. * A publishing policy: You need to establish policies that deal with scheduling and commissioning, metadata and classification, editing and removal of old content, promotion, legal issues, etc. * Publishing measurables: If you're going to allow people to publish they must be measured on what they publish. It's as simple as that. * Training and evangelism: Quality publishing is a complex task requiring skill and experience. Few organizations have reached a level of sufficient competence. To upgrade skills, extensive training programs will be required. Before such training is initiated, staff need to be evangelized on the importance of getting publishing right. --- Gerry McGovern has spoken, written and consulted extensively on web content management issues since 1994. Find out more here. This article was republished with permission.