The Need for Content Operations

By on January 27, 2016

We implement content management as a practice.  After 11 years of this, we see the same two patterns over and over again:

  1. Organizations not prepared to launch a new CMS because their content is mess
  2. Organizations who do not fully use the content management systems they’ve had implemented
There are a lot of reasons for why this happens, but it’s very consistent.  We’ve so far dealt with them on a piecemeal basis.  However, we’re beginning to wonder if it would be wise to create an entirely separate practice based around what we’re calling “content operations.”  This is low-level, tactical, operational work that needs to be done on content to…well, make it go.

As an organizational exercise, we put together a detailed description of this practice, which I’ve reprinted below.  After a quick intro (suffer through it), there are over a dozen sub-practices and example scenarios for how we think this would work.

Understand that in no way do we think we’re breaking any new ground here.  But I think a lot of implementation shops handle this stuff on a case-by-case basis — they suffer through migration work and other large-scale, tactical content stuff as a price of admission for doing the CMS implementation.  They do it, it sucks, and then they say, “Wow, that was awful…on to the next one!”

What we’re looking to do is accept this work, build some process and tools around it, and actively pursue it both as a business model, and way to develop the competency.

I’m posting this here because I think it’s a good outline of problems we see in this space. Some of this might resonate with you, or remind you of a deathmarch project or two from your past.

This is a practice area that probably needs to be embraced, not avoided.

Practice Description: Content Operations

Content Operations (CO) is concerned with everything between Content Strategy (CS) and Content Management (CM). Any form of content manipulation and analysis would be managed by a CO process.

CO is bookended by content strategy and technical CMS services.

  1. CO is not digital marketing or content strategy. It assumes the content plan exists and just needs to be implemented.
  2. CO is not technical content management. It assumes a satisfactory CMS has been implemented. It is concerned with the content inside this CMS.
CO is the “glue” between the (1) plan for content, and (2) the content management system in which it’s managed and delivered.

CO would provide two types of services: (1) one-time, project-based services which contribute to a CMS implementation; and (2) ongoing services which continue on a recurring basis after implementation.


  1. To increase overall success of CMS implementation projects by addressing the “client skill and effort gap”
  2. To avoid completed projects from launch delays while they wait for content issues to be resolved.
  3. To increase developer efficiency by off-loading tasks that don’t require developer attention but can’t currently be staffed any other way (content invenvtory and analysis for scoping, URL redirection management, content extraction, content rough-in, etc.)
  4. To increase client efficiency by providing an outlet for larger-scale content activities.
  5. To increase client effectiveness by providing consulting around operations and other non-development content issues.

1. CMS Implementation Service Examples

These are services that would occur in conjuction with a CMS implementation.

Content Inventory/Audit

Identification of all existing content, analysis of types and characteristics, and description of non-content functionality.
Example: To assist in the scoping of a CMS re-implementation, the CO specialist puts together an inventory and analysis of the current content for the sales team to start scoping from.

Automated Content Extraction

Extraction, transformation, and storage of existing content in preparation for an import.
Example: The CO specialist prototypes, tests, and executes an automated content extract to get the existing content cleaned and into an XML document for the implementing developer to import from.

Manual Content Migration

Manual, human-powered movement of content from one system to another.
Example: The CO specialist migrates content from legacy PDFs to managed, structured content objects when no other (programmatic) options exist. Alternately, the CO specialist trains, manages, and reports on a group of subcontractors that perform this work.

Content Rough-in / IA Implementation

Creation of content structures to implement a designed IA.
Example: A CS process has created an approved IA, and a new CMS installation has been bootstrapped. In order to test navigation logic and other functionality, the CO specialist roughs in the planned site map with the correct types to provide some structure for continued development. This is not a full migration — just a stubbing out of future content.

Content Re-Organization

Movement and re-organization of content to implement an improved IA or to fulfill other operational needs.
Example: The CO specialist plans, executes, reviews, and reports on a large re-organization of content to support an improved IA recommendation. The re-org is planned and executed with minimal disruption to editorial staff, who are then briefed on the changes.

Content QA

Review of migrated content to ensure pre-launch quality.
Example: A migration has been completed, but content has to be checked for formatting, links, organization, etc. prior to launch. The CO specialist plans the QA metrics, manages the process, opens tickets and connects with the development team where necessary, and reports on progress both during execution and after completion.

Launch Management and Auditing

Monitoring and management of content-related tasks required for site launch.
Example: During a CMS implementation, the CO specialist keeps track of the list of content that has to be created, where that content is in the process, who is responsible for it, etc. The CO specialist tracks and reports on every content-related item that might impact launch readiness with the goal of having the CMS functionality and content come together at the right time for launch.

Editorial Training Planning and Execution

Development of training plans, materials, and execution of training for editorial staff.
Example: A CO specialist reviews the website plan to determine the different logical editing groups, then plans a training curriculum on the both the CMS and other related, topics to ensure proper skill by launch time. The CO specialist executes this training, then conducts follow-ups as necessary to ensure editors are working with the system correct. The CO specialist coordinates continuing access to training materials, and is available on an ad hoc basis post-implementation for questions.

URL Integrity Management

URL planning, auditing, and redirection management.
Example: During a CMS implementation, the CO specialist reviews the URL patterns of the existing site, discusses and plans changes with the client, communicates those changes to the developer, and populates and manages the redirection file to be used on the new site’s 404 handler.

2. Ongoing Content Operations Service Examples

These are services that would occur on a continuing basis, post-implementation.

Content QA

Monitoring of content for link integrity and other editorial markers.
Example: The CO specialist manages multiple processes and toolsets to review content for quality, such as link validity, image size opitmization, spell checking, and the verification of specific content rules — if an acronym is used, ensure it was previously stated in full within the same content object, for example.

Content Entry / Posting

The creation, formatting, and configuration of content from provided source material.
Example: The CO specialist posts content provided by a client — turning a Word document into a press release object, for example, populating it with an image and scheduling it for publication.

Content Creation Management

Management of the content creation and sourcing process through other vendors, including design support and extended project support for larger content-based projects.
Example: The CO specialist arranges for the creation of content for a client’s upcoming campaign, including design concepts, managing the production of copy writers, analytics configuration, etc.

Content Operations Consulting and Audit

Review of internal digital content operations and consulting around changes and improvements.
Example: The CO specialist performs an auditing of the client’s content channels and digital staff, suggestilng improvements for workflow, reporting, and responsibilities.

Analytics Consulting, Tuning, and Analysis

Review of analystics, consulting around alternatives, analysis of results.
Example: The CO specialist works with the client to determine how to configure analytics to produce the data they need, then makes all changes possible via configuration and scopes more in-depth changes with the development team.

Localization Support

Sourcing and management of localization services.
Example: Based on a localization plan, the CO specialist sources translation services, configures the CMS as necessary, and executes translation projects to produce localized and publish content.

CMS Administration

Management of users, permissions, workflows, etc. as necessary to assist editorial process.
Example: Rather than training internal staff on administrative features, the client depends on the CO specialist to add and remove users when requested, configure permissions as necessary, and create desired workflows as needed. The CO specialist is responsible for the running, administration, and configuration of the CMS up to the limit of what can be done without development.


Every Day I Want To Quit Social Media

By on October 30, 2015

Every Day I Want To Quit Social Media: This one hit a bit close to home. It’s a heartfelt, emotional piece about the love-hate relationship some people have with social media. There’s absolutely an element of addiction there.

I don’t find the information I’m looking for. Desperately, I click back to the tab with the newsfeed. I notice that I don’t have as many notifications at this hour as I should have, and I begin to tense up, my heart beating faster. I am forever judging myself by my social media performance.


The Future of Libraries

By on October 29, 2015

What Libraries Can (Still) Do:  This is a good discussion about the future of the public library, which echos things I’ve talked about here before.

[...] librarians will need to cherish their special talent as “stewards” while letting go of the instinct to be “collectors.” Knowledge in physical form needs to be handled carefully, preserved, and curated. But with digital information pouring into iPhones and Kindles in petabytes—via Twitter and Instagram and YouTube, not to mention Amazon’s self-publishing factories—libraries need to rethink old habits. They cannot collect everything, or even a small fraction of everything.


The Flying Squirrel Book

By on July 14, 2015

The Flying Squirrel BookFor the last few months, I’ve been working on a book for O’Reilly: Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices.  It’s a reasonable distillation of everything I’ve learned about web content management in almost two decades of success and failure (hopefully more of the former than the latter…)

O’Reilly has an interesting system of pre-order, whereby you can buy the book and get a series of e-book chapters as its written. They’re rough and not finished, but you can start the reading the book before it’s even published. My book has had two sets of chapters released — 1-4 and 5-7 — and is due for 8-10 in a couple of weeks.  (I’m not sure if there will be another, since the entire book is tentatively planned at 14 chapters).  You can pre-order here.

O’Reilly books are well-known for their covers of hand-drawn animals.  To my dismay, I learned that you don’t get to pick — the O’Reilly art department instead proposes designs to you, and you have a limited ability to object. They first came up with a dog, which absolutely wasn’t going to happen (I don’t like dogs).  Then a bird, which just didn’t seem right either.  Then my editor called and said, “Look, we can go back to them one more time, but you’re gonna have to make one of the three work.”

God was apparently smiling on me, because that third animal was the pygmy flying squirrel, which frankly couldn’t be more awesome.  Thus, my book’s website: The Flying Squirrel Book.

The process of writing has been more difficult than I expected. Finding the time is a huge challenge, but the hardest part has been fighting the image of perfection in my head. I’ve waited so long to write this book, that I avoid writing because I’m afraid the actual words won’t live up to my expectations.

Additionally, “walking back the knowledge” has been challenging.  I’ll go to explain Concept A, then get a few pages in before I realize that I’m not explaining Concept A, but Concept D. I actually have to back up and explain Concepts A, B, and C first.  Honestly, you don’t realize what you actually know until you have to write it all down.

The mechanics of writing have been fun.  O’Reilly has a system they call Atlas (alas, not available commercially yet), which allows to me to write in a Markdown-ish format called AsciiDoc.  I maintain these in a Git repo.  These are then converted to HTML (I could write directly in HTML, if I wanted).  The HTML is then turned into all sorts of formats, in almost real-time.  I can “build” the book into print-ready PDF, MOBI, HTML, etc. in seconds.

So, that’s what I’ve been working on since last year. With a bit of luck, the book will be out in the fall.  Once I finish writing, we go to “pre-production,” where it gets copy-edited and indexed, then apparently I get a box in the mail with a bunch of books.

That’ll be a good day.


The Limitations of Screen Reading

By on July 9, 2015

Everything Science Knows About Reading On Screens: More proof that reading on the screen is not the same as reading on paper.

But this style of reading may come at a cost—Liu noted in his study that sustained attention seems to decline when people read onscreen rather than on paper, and that people also spend less time on in-depth reading. “In digital, we can link in different media, images, sound, and other text, and people can get overwhelmed,”

[...] The researchers found that when people read short nonfiction onscreen, their understanding of the text suffered because people managed their time poorly compared with when they used paper.

There’s even a slight difference between reading on paper and reading on a Kindle.
Mangen explains that the tactile feedback of paper may help people process certain information when they read, and this may be lost when we move to digital texts.


Just My Type

By on June 27, 2015

This is a book about fonts (or type or typefaces — I’ve learned there are subtle variations in the definitions of each, but I can’t remember what they are). The book is a series of anecdotes about fonts/types. Each chapter is short — you can read one in 3-4 minutes, but they’re all pretty entertaining.  Some things I learned:

  • Type fans are kind of a cult.  There’s an entire word of type designers and fans that you don’t even know exist. They freak out when a font changes somewhere, and they have massive arguments and flame wars on the internet about what font a particular company uses. The worst thing to hear in these situations is “Verdict: Not a Font,” which means the type was something designed specifically for the logo or service mark.
  • A font company is called a “foundry.”  There are some legendary foundries over the years, like  International Typeface Corporation (ITC), the initials of which appear before a lot of their fonts.
  • There is a character called an “interrobang,” which is a combination of a an exclamation point and question mark, meant for things like “You did what!?”  A guy came up with it in the 1960s, but it never really caught on.
  • There’s a huge war between Arial and Helvetica.  There’s even a funny College Humor video where their respective gangs meet for a rumble (the last 15 seconds is pretty funny).
  • Universal also kind of screwed over Helvetica, because it was free.  So people stopped buying Helvetica.
  • Microsoft has had a pretty significant influence on fonts, given the ubiquity of Microsoft products.  Microsoft commissioned Tahoma, Georgia, Verdana, and Calibri. Microsoft is also responsible for the victory of Arial, due to its default inclusion in Microsoft products. The same is true of Times New Roman, which was commissioned in 1931 for the Times newspaper, but has lived on because Microsoft has bundled it in with their products for years.
  • Gill Sans is named for Eric Gill, who designed it and was, incidentally, a sexual pervert.  He apparently regularly molested his daughters and experimented sexually with the family dog.
  • The Nazis outlawed Gothic script in 1941, believing it to be too associated with the Jews.
  • The testing word that type designers favor when they test their fonts is “handgloves,” because of the way the different letters interact and its unqiue kerning properties.
  • There is software just for designing fonts.  For example “Fontographer,” by Fontlab.
  • There is debate as to the origin of the word “font.”  Some think it derives from “fund,” as in a “fund of letters,” on which the printer would draw.  Others think it comes from the French word “fonte” which means “cast,” because the letters were originally cast in lead.
  • In 1977, a British newspaper created  a pretty funny April Fools Day hoax, using font terminology to create a fictional island which supposedly was marking 10 years of independence.
  • Gotham is a font well-known for being used on the iconic Obama 2008 campaign posters.
  • Johnston Sans is legendary for being used on signage in the London Underground for decades.
  • It’s not possible to copyright a font.  You’d have to copyright each individual letter and symbol, which is prohibitive. Thus, derivation in the font world is common, and some of the great type designers have died penniless after being unable to support themselves.
The entire book is full of these stories.  It’s well-written and frequently funny.  It does occasionally get into touchy-feely emotional talk about the design characteristics of fonts, which I didn’t quite get, but designers will no-doubt love it.  Absolutely worth the read, and so much better than the other book I read about fonts last year: Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works (here’s my Goodreads review of that book, which I really disliked).



Author Payment by the Page

By on June 22, 2015

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: Interesting times:

Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.
Of course, however, there are debates about what a “page” means, when it comes to ebooks.
To determine a book’s page count in a way that works across genres and devices, we’ve developed the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC). We calculate KENPC based on standard settings (e.g. font, line height, line spacing, etc.), and we’ll use KENPC to measure the number of pages customers read in your book, starting with the Start Reading Location (SRL) to the end of your book. Amazon typically sets SRL at chapter 1 so readers can start reading the core content of your book as soon as they open it.
See: eBooks and the Vanishing Concept of the Page



Creating Fake Facebook Accounts

By on June 22, 2015

Inside a counterfeit Facebook farm: This is the process a “Facebook Account Mill” goes through to create a new account.  I found it fascinating.
She starts by entering the client’s specifications into the website Fake Name Generator, which returns a sociologically realistic identity: Ashley Nivens, 21, from Nashville, Tennessee, now a student at New York University who works part-time at American Apparel. Casipong then creates an email account. The email address forms the foundation of Ashley Nivens’ Facebook account, which is fleshed out with a profile picture from photos that Braggs’ workers have scraped from dating sites. The whole time, a proxy server makes it seem as though Casipong is accessing the internet from Manhattan, and software disables the cookies that Facebook uses to track suspicious activity. Next, Casipong inserts a SIM card into a Nokia cellphone, a pre–touch screen antique that’s been used so much, the digits on its keypad have worn away. Once the phone is live, she types its number into Nivens’ Facebook profile and waits for a verification code to arrive via text message. She enters the code into Facebook and — voilà! — Ashley Nivens is, according to Facebook’s security algorithms, a real person. The whole process takes about three minutes.
Interesting how email is the bedrock of the process. Increasingly, everything is tied to an email account. For its part, Facebook knows this is an issue:
This February, Facebook stated that about 7 percent of its then 1.4 billion accounts were fake or duplicate, and that up to 28 million were “undesirable” — used for activities like spamming. In August 2014, Twitter disclosed in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that 23 million — or 8.5 percent — of its 270 million accounts were automated.
I also quietly mourn for a culture in which this is a thing that has to happen.


What is Content Integration?

By on April 27, 2015

Since I don’t feel there’s a good, all-encompassing name out there for this, I’m going to attempt to invent one –

Content Integration encompasses the philosophy, theories, practices, and tools around the re-use and adaption of content from our core repository into other uses and channels, or vice-versa: the creation and ingestion of content from other channels into our core repository.

Traditionally, we create content and store it in a repository. In many cases, this repository is also a delivery channel. A web content management system (WCMS) is the perfect example – we create the content in the WCMS, store it there, and deliver it from there. In many cases, our content stays entirely locked within the bounds of our WCMS. The entire lifecycle of that content—creation, management, delivery, archival, and deletion—happens inside of that system.

Content Integration would be the process by which we connect to content in that repository and use it in some other way. Content Integration occurs every time we connect a content-based system to the “outside world” to take in or push out content to other systems to allow for creation or consumption by other means.

For example –

  • We create an announcement for our company intranet. We also want to email this announcement without having to create separate content for the email.
  • We have four corporate websites, each running on a different CMS. We have a single Privacy Policy that is reviewed, modified, and re-published edited by our legal department once a quarter. When this happens, the text of the policy should be pushed out to each website automatically.
  • Employees of our company submit Improvement Suggestions via a Word document. These are reviewed, metadata is added via document properties, and items worthy of further discussion are moved into a separate location by an admin assistant. Files in this location need to be consumed and automatically published to the Improvement Committee section of our intranet.
  • Our latest financial projections need to be published to the investor relations section of our website, and to seven different reporting services. Each service has slightly different formatting and composition requirements, so our financial projection content has to able to adapt to each one.
Content management vendors tend to silently wage war against Content Integration by adding features to their systems in an effort to remove the need to go “outside” that system. In the first example above, WCMS vendors often built entire email messaging platforms into their systems to allow for this functionality in addition to the core web publishing.

This is done in the name of sales demos and competitive advantage, but weakens the product overall because no vendor can ever predict all the possible ways content can be re-used. (While it’s easy to blame vendors, the guilt can probably be laid at the feet of their customers, who—being ignorant of the concepts of Content Integration—have historically equated “built-in” with “superior.”)

To circle back to the original definition, Content Integration is multi-disciplinary. It encompasses:

  • Philosophy: How do we adopt the mindset that content is divorced from channel?  That message and medium are not the same thing, and a message can be carried over multiple media? How do we evangelize this philosophy to the entire organization?
  • Theories: What are the core paradigms of working with content? What is content, itself? What is a repository?  What is a channel?
  • Practices: How do we design content for integration? How do we manage it in such a way that it can be re-used? What governance and workflow situations arise from the usage of content in multiple locations?
  • Tools: What type of repository allows us to integrate our content easily? What channel products and services are designed for content integration? What content management systems allow for the easy import/export of content for re-use?
In the end, Content Integration is an umbrella which falls over a collection of knowledge and technology, the combination of which allows us to get more value out of our content – to reach greater numbers of content consumers, at less cost, with greater control, and less risk.


RSG WCM Survey

By on February 10, 2015

Tony and the crew from Real Story Group have embarked on a broad survey of WCM usage and implementation patterns, which I think is worth taking.  The survey is here:

Survey: Web Content & Experience Management

I don’t think enough of this happens in the industry. As a group, we lack in self-reflection and reporting.  Some of the questions are so basic, yet incredible opaque from the outside.

If you complete the survey, you can elect to get a summary of the results. That alone makes it worthwhile.