Coming Soon: Guided Content Maps

By Deane Barker on October 28, 2005

I was reading a little e-book by Seth Godin the other day called “Everyone’s an Expert” which turned out to be a big promo for his new venture: Squidoo (it’s not live yet — so there’s not much to look at).

In this little book (it’s quite good), Godin brings up the eternal problem with blogs: they’re very transient. Stuff rolls down the front page, and a newcomer reading the page might very well be bewildered since there’s a bunch of stuff with no context, and a lot of it might be related to other stuff the user hasn’t read.

We’re talked about this before, of course, when we discussed (several times), the difference between posts and pages, and — more accurately — the difference between wikis and blogs in our post on Hurricane Ivan. In that post, we said:

With Wikipedia, you’re not seeing a series of posted items. You’re seeing a single body of information, continually updated and groomed. Thus, the basic information stays right where it’s easy to see. Wikis are more “speak to me like I know nothing” information, rather than “tell me the very latest nuance” information.

And this is what Godin is getting at in his e-book. He says:

The best blogs have a regular readership.

Because so many blog readers are regulars, returning every day or every week, the blogger has the luxury of using just a few words to pick up where she left off. She can invent conventions, pursue open topics, pick up dropped threads, and talk in a vernacular that her readers enjoy. When I post to my blog, I know that the vast majority of my readers read what I wrote last week and last month as well. That makes it easier for me to make a point without a lot of backtracking.

[…] But what if you, the online listener, the person in search of meaning, don’t have the patience or the time for a long-term commitment? What if you need meaning right now so you can get on with the next thing on your agenda?

His point is that there needs to be a way to summarize or “roll-up” a blog’s expertise on a given subject so a user doesn’t have to looking for it.

Consider this —

There is a lot of information on this site about content management. It’s what Joe and I do for a living, so we’ve written about it quite a bit. But could you find it all? And if you did, could you put it in order? Would you know that Article A is one you should read before you buy a content management system? Would you know that Article B may actually explain to you why you don’t need a system at all?

Probably not. Jakob Nielson railed about this the other day in his rant about blog usability. He said: “Classic Hits are Buried.” He’s right — there’s a trememndous about of information about several concentrated topics (content management, Web usability, fighting spam, etc.) on this site, but there’s nothing to pull it all together.

There’s no guide to explain all the artifacts in the museum. We need a guide.

Seth’s answer is Squidoo, where they’ll host what they call a “lens.” A lens is a method of organizing information about a topic, a place to demonstrate your expertise about something. The idea is that if an expert on something has a place to, well, be an expert, then he or she will draw traffic, they can sell ads (which they share with the expert).

It’s a good name: “lens.” A lens brings stuff into focus, which is what they’re trying to do. A lens can make things clearer. A lens is a tool through which you view the world.

This whole thing reminds me of About.com. I almost joined that outfit back when it was called “The Mining Company.” They were hiring “guides” for various topics. I applied and was accepted to be the James Bond guide (GoldenEye was just out — Bond was huge again). I had to turn it down, but I liked the concept — someone to guide people around the Web for a particular topic, gathering disparate resources, putting them in context, and generally making sense of a topic.

A while back, someone mentioned to me the idea of “topic maps,” which is a way to organize a bunch of disparate content into a coherent unit. I think we’re going to pursue this a bit, and we’re going to start with content management.

I’m envisioning a set of pages (“Guided Content Maps” — how’s that for a craptacular term?) that will organize all of our writing on content management. Yes, we have the content management category archive, but that’s in chronological order which imparts no context or meaning, and there’s no information about the posts that groups them into a higher level of organization. It’s a blunt instrument.

Example: if you’re considering content management for your company, we have several posts you should read. They may make you change your mind and just stick with static content. Here are just a few:

Etc. You get the idea. These are posts concentrated about a theme. Other themes on content management on this site:

  • Content Management Theory
    When you decide to build your own, these are ways to do it.
  • Specific Content Management Systems
    If you don’t want to build your own, consider these.
  • Content Management News
    Information about the content management business and development landscape. Who has been acquired? What project has forked?

The idea is create the “Gadgetopia Book of Content Management” where we start from the beginning (“Do you really need content management?”), and walk through the end (“This is how your build your own system?”).

This will be more wiki than blog. To borrow from our prior post, this will “a single body of information, continually updated and groomed.” It will be a concentration point of information.

That’s the idea, anyway. Stay tuned.

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