A content inventory is a key tool in helping us understand the content we have, and can guide decisions on how to improve, move or add to our content repositories. 

Inventories ideally support our exploration of content, making it possible to answer questions that we only know to ask after diving into the content. People often think of inventories as boring undertakings, and complain about struggling with spreadsheets. But this reflects a fairly static view of spreadsheets. 

Here we will look at creating more dynamic, effective inventories that will hopefully provide a more interesting approach. 

Goodbye Static Content Inventories

Content inventories are often thought of as spreadsheets, with a view similar to the one below, each row indicating an asset or page: 

spreadsheet based content inventory

I have nothing against spreadsheets and probably work in them more than most. That said, a snapshot enumeration of the content on your site (or sites) is hardly that helpful on its own. 

At a minimum we want to generate reports like the example below (here we look at the distribution of word counts for all text pages on my website): 

basic report

But if all we did was stare at this report as a snapshot like the above it’s still fairly static. 

One way to make it more dynamic is making them so that we can drill down. In the example below we click on the bar representing pages with 1200 to 1800 words to see each piece of content in that group: 

A more aggregate view like this helps during the planning stage because we don’t want to look at every piece of content anyway (except for small sites). A big mistake made in migration planning is examining every piece of content to decide on its disposition, instead of using rules

We could add another layer of dynamism by making it so that when the underlying data changes, all the charts and reports would change as well. 

Learning Opportunities

The data above was gathered by a spider (yes there are different sources of data for an inventory, and a spider may not make sense for your digital presence), with the graph then dynamically generated from that. If we were to re-crawl and replace the data (in the example screenshot below, using the “Import Data into this Table” function), the graphs and drilldowns would update as well. 

    import data

    Characteristics of Dynamic Content Inventories

    Two characteristics define more dynamic content inventories: 

    1. Exploration
    2. Easy updates


    Content inventories are most useful when employed as an exploration tool. Our exploration may uncover previously unconsidered questions that require us to investigate different avenues. When contrasting against static spreadsheets, dynamic inventories can do three things to support exploration. 

    • Validation: As in the example screen capture, ideally the tool allows us to move between patterns and charts (such as different word count ranges) and the members of that slice
    • Looking at different patterns: Ideally when inventorying we can look at different patterns from different angles. Consider the example below, which looks at how many instances of each file group there is for each site disposition (for instance, the red represents complex text-based documents, and each of the three horizontal bars represents a different site disposition). Here we can deselect different file groups (“Technical and Not Moving” has already been deselected so not showing in this screenshot) or see the breakdown for only one site in the pulldown at the upper left 
    compare patterns

    • Multiple sources: Ideally, it should be possible to merge information from multiple sources, while still allowing the people inventorying to massage the data as if it was coming from one place 
    multiple sources

    Easy Updates

    Our inventory won’t be very dynamic if we can never change the underlying data. This requires two additional things: 

    • Raw data percolating: We need to make sure that we can change the underlying data easily, and that the data then feeds into updating all the reports 
    • Tracking progressAlthough not necessary, we can also capture information about progress, either of the inventory process itself or some other processes. Below is an example for the progress of scans of a large web presence (how many sites were scanned per day). Another example is tracking the progress of migrations to capture how it is proceeding against the original inventory, combining live spreadsheets that the different people involved in the migration update with their own activities
    Scans over time

    Approaching content inventories more dynamically makes them more engaging, better enables exploration, and allows higher quality as well. So let’s not stop at static spreadsheets to create more useful reporting, and make sure that even tabular data can be updated as easily as possible. 

    Title image Hans Eiskonen

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