Down with blobs, long live chunks!

The weaknesses of content management systems (CMS) have always been pretty obvious to me so I was not at all surprised when Karen McGrane referred to them as “content mis-management” in her content strategy workshop at Webstock this year. CMS just substitutes one set of problems for a set of different problems where people can just shove any old garbage onto the internet with no editorial process or standards. The CMS, she said, is “not your editorial staff, its your printing press” and therefore only a part of the content life-cycle, not the final solution as many try to treat it.

Blobs vs. Chunks

Mobile content strategy rule 8
Separate content from form and create presentation-independent content. Don’t encode meaning through visual styling – instead, add structure and metadata to your content.

A big part of the problem is that we’ve gotten sucked in to believing that content creators need a MS Word-like WYSIWYG interface, but this allows them to dump unstructured ‘blobs’ of styled content onto the web. These blobs are inevitably unsustainable and in the face of the need to now re-style content for various forms of delivery, including but not limited to mobile, they are extremely limited.

What we need, Karen says, is systems that create more structure around content, to create content in reusable ‘chunks’, not amorphous ‘blobs’ and systems that can deploy the most appropriate content for the platform. So we need to create content packages: for example, we might have 2 or more variations on the page title, of different lengths or keyed to different audiences, a short and long page description, the page content itself,  appropriately structured with subheadings that can be reused as in-page contents links, several sizes of each relevant image and a range of metadata.

The content management system would then be set up to fit with the various tasks of its users and to publish the various chunks in the most appropriate way. Karen gave us ten ‘rules’ for content strategy: Continue reading

Love your web content

Erin KissaneOn Valentine’s Day I was thinking webby thoughts at  a Webstock workshop Content Strategy in (your) real world presented by content strategist, editor and writer Erin Kissane.

Here is a quick summary of her quotable gems on web content:

  • Good content is useful and purposeful.
  • Be a proponent of sectional landing pages, lots of people aren’t coming in the home page
  • Serve the real humans, and you are serving the smart machines
  • Five good examples trump 30 written guidelines when it comes to demonstrating style.
  • Write a site purpose document and use it as a measuring stick “Nothing goes on the website unless it does this thing”
  • You can do all the content tweaking you like, but it doesn’t matter if people can’t find it.
  • We need to represent users’ content needs.

Find out more in her slim volume The elements of content strategy.

The Discipline of Content Strategy

Kristina Halvorson’s workshop was actually entitled The Practice of Content Strategy but she early on used the word discipline and it seems quite suitable because it is both a discipline and requires discipline. Coming from a business oriented point of view Kristina recommended that we all try to behave as consultants within our organisations. This is a useful approach because it gives you a bit of distance from the content, allows you to focus on the expertise you bring to the table and reinforces the need to create alignment throughout the organisation and document the strategy well.

Kristina's Core Strategy Slide from Webstock 2011
Kristina's Core Strategy Slide

Having a content STRATEGY is all about getting alignment around the goal(s) of the website, specifically the business goals that the website is to achieve, and determining how those goals are to be achieved through the website. Kristina kept coming back to business requirements driving site objectives as well as site objectives which was a very important point and one that is frequently overlooked.

I got a couple of good quotes…

“Content Strategy plans for the creation, delivery & governance of content that is useful, usable, productive & profitable”.

‘you don’t launch content – you commit it to a lifecycle’

“most of us don’t have web1.0 figured out”

Kristina says to start with determining who the site’s stakeholders are and finding their pain points and also the content that they have an emotional connection with. There are three main steps to coming up with a content strategy:

  1. working out the content ecosystem – that is what you already have (by taking an audit) and the internal and external factors impacting it,
  2. creating a strategy of what you are trying to achieve on the website, and
  3. coming up with detailed specifications e.g. how you are going to achieve those goals.

In coming to terms with your existing content she uses an acronym ROT – Redundant, Outdated, Trivial, to determine if a page is worth keeping much like the librarian’s MUSTY criteria for weeding physical content.

She was also very big on documenting everything, especially agreements on goals, processes etc, and on getting stakeholders to literally sign-off on these. Documentation needs to have risks and assumptions built in so that if any risks actually come to pass you have all agreed that they were a possible outcome.

A note on curation – this came right at the end but was interesting. She also mentioned that the Brain Traffic twitter is being used only for curated content about Content Strategy type topics rather than for all kinds of stuff.

Here are some links she recommended.

Electronic resources for bored kids

Right now at Christchurch City Libraries we have gone through a period of  massive electronic resource expansion.  You may have already heard of these, but if not:

TumbleBook Library is an online collection of TumbleBooks – animated, talking picture books which teach kids the joy of reading in a format they’ll love. TumbleBooks are created by adding animation, sound, music and narration to  existing picture books in order to produce an electronic picture book which you can read, or have read to you.  The pause button  stops the story at any time in order to practice story prediction, interpret pictures, discuss new vocabulary words or encourage problem solving.

Quick Tips?

TumbleGames: A collection of concentration games, spelling games, and ‘fill-in-the blanks’ games to see what kids have learnt from the book!

Language Learning: A growing selection of books in Spanish, French, Italian and a few in Russian and Chinese.  Many are bilingual titles which allow the user to read the book in two languages. A great way to practice if learning a  new language!


Intrepica is a high-quality play-based literacy resource with more than 10,000 activities online for children of all ages and ability. Children and parents can select from activities focusing on pre-reading skills, phonics, reading, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and comprehension in a fun, exciting and safe online environment.

Users progress through progressively harder tests earning trophies and coins for completing games which they can then “spend” dressing their avatar up in outfits and costumes!

Quick Tips?

Users need an up to date version of Flash on their computers for this to work.  They also need to keep the email they were sent when they signed up as this contains the username and password that they need to sign in with!

Colleen Finnerty
Serials & Preservation

New Historical Electronic Newspapers – a family history bonanza

The library has recently gained access to the below four newspapers for library users:

The Irish Times (1859-2008) and The Weekly Irish Times (1876-1958) From the aftermath of the Great Famine, the launch of the Titanic, and the Easter Rising of 1916, World Wars to the Dublin début of River dance, this resource captures it all in the context of the time.

The Guardian (1821-1900) and The Observer (1791-2003) Covers the past political and social events of the past 200 years. From Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo to the Russian Revolution to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, these newspapers will enchant not just genealogists but anyone with an interest in news and history.

All of these newspapers are part of ProQuest’s Historical Newspaper Database.

Read more on the Christchurch City Libraries blog.