Book Review: Designing Connected Content

Designing Connected ContentTwo book reviews in a row? Yep. As I said in my last review, I’m reading non-fiction a lot more now and I have a backlog of industry books to read. One of the authors of this book, Carrie Hane, is a good friend. I watched her work on Designing Connect Content for pretty much all of 2017. I was very excited to finally get my copy.

For years, Carrie and her co-author, Mike Atherton, have been talking about Designing Future Friendly Content. In the web world this means using a structured content model so that the management of the content is not tightly coupled with the presentation layer. As design trends change, your content and underlying website structure doesn’t have to. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, you are looking at a headless Content Management System (CMS) supporting one or more presentation layers (web, mobile, Alexa…).

They finally took the time to write a book on the topic. It was time well spent.

Content First

When I started reading this book, I figured I was looking at a big piece that Deane Barker didn’t cover in his book (Web Content Management), the design. Not the user experience (UX) part of design but the structural aspects. Information Architecture (IA) with a Content Strategy focus.

Yes and no.

What I found as I read was some great lessons on why content matters. I always knew this but they make the case for why real content matters early in web design. Forget Lorem Ipsum (or Riker Ipsum). Let designers work with real content. Allow stakeholders to evaluate their evolving website with words that provide much needed context.

I had always been a proponent of architect first and then adding the UX to a website. This book really helped me understand why content needs to be first to drive that architecture.

Content Modeling

I am not going to lie. I flashed back to my college days in the Structuring Content section of the book. Back in college I studied the modeling of business processes, business entities, and how to translate those into both application and database designs.

Carrie and Mike walk you through many of those same concepts. They don’t get too technical like my old textbooks. They focus on sharing only what you need to know at each stage.

That is key. They outline multiple steps so you aren’t trying model the most granular detail at the very beginning. You gradually evolve your model until it is ready for the CMS. Tips on how to get the domain experts involved, ensuring the model is correct, are scattered throughout the process.

The authors provide multiple examples, from their own experiences, to illustrate how it all flows together. The examples they use are well chosen. Most readers, including you, are likely to understand the modeled domains without too much effort.

Practical Advice

At every stage in the book, references are provided to other experts should you want to learn more on a topic. This is not to say that they skimp on any relevant topic. They, like Deane in his book, realize that it is impossible to cover everything in depth. As such they point you on where you can go to learn more. I fully expect that future books in the space will reference Designing Connected Content for an in-depth look at creating structured content.

You are guided through the process from initial research to making the hard design decisions when implementing your model. The authors stress that you should never work in a silo as you need input from content creators and those building the website to do the job correctly.

I don’t know a single developer that doesn’t want the content model stable sooner rather than later. I’ve also never met a designer, architect, or developer that wouldn’t rather build things using real content instead of fake content. You never know what is going to happen when real content hits the application until it actually hits the application.

That is the advice and plan they lay out for the reader and they do it well.

In Short…

What I now have in my library is a great tutorial for content modeling and why you need to model it early for any content effort. And yes, I am talking about the old stodgy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) space as well.

If you are working on a website redesign, this book will serve you well in making sure you don’t head down many bad turns in getting to a robust design. If you are building Content Services Platforms, then you need the techniques in this book to help you build a flexible, holistic, model.

It is an enjoyable read full of little bits of humor to help you get through what could have been a boring, technical, process manual. It is far from that and I highly recommend reading it. I already know some people on my teams I’ll be suggesting strongly that they read Designing Connected Content.


I wasn’t paid to write this review. Carrie gave me a free copy of the book over a frozen picnic table. The usual author requests were made of me; if I like it, please write a review. I did and now I have.

Book Review: Web Content Management

Web Content Management by Deane BarkerA long time ago, Deane Barker swung through DC on business and I was lucky enough to have breakfast with him. Even luckier, he gave me a copy of the book he had recently published through O’Reilly, Web Content Management. After nearly two years, during which I read very few non-fiction books, I picked it up and gave it a read.

I’m glad that I did.

I am not going to profess having learned a ton about Web Content Management (WCM) from reading Deane’s book. After all, I have been doing this whole content management thing for a while. However, it was great to read a collection of wisdom from Deane’s decades of experience focused in this domain. Deane is an excellent write and his practical (and witty) use of footnotes really conveys what is involved when you tackle a WCM project.

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Information Governance, Moving on from Content

Has Content build holding us prisoner, making us miss the bigger picture?When I dove into the debate on Content Services and ECM, my conclusion was fairly straightforward.

Look at your information flow. Follow it and find new ways to make it flow faster. If you can do that and know where your information is at anytime, you are done.

There is a lot of detail buried under that relatively straightforward statement. Content Services is part of a broader trend in the content management space and is here to stay. It has been here since CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Services) entered the picture almost a decade ago but now people are seeing it as more than a way to integrate systems.

The problem is that ECM (Enterprise Content Management) is still just part of the picture. Even if we use the latest tools without regard to the latest buzz words that define them. If we just focus on the content we are failing to solve what needs to be solved.

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Keep Your Data in Shape

Congratulations! You are finally tracking the effectiveness of your content and are starting to gain real insights into how people interact with you on your website, social media outlets, and across all of your digital efforts. The data is really starting to pour in, revealing trends that are helping you plan for the next step of your evolving marketing strategy.

As the data piles up, you may start to notice little things. Reports are taking longer to run. Your IT staff is spending more time on performance tuning. You realize that determining the ideal audience for a campaign is requiring as many exclusions as inclusions. Meanwhile, your email bounce-back rate and unsubscribe requests continue to climb.

What is happening is info-glut. Over time, the data piles up and a growing percentage becomes inaccurate, unreliable, or both. While a simple answer is to throw a little more power at the problem and adjust expectations, there are questions that are begging to be asked.

  • Do we care who downloaded a whitepaper three years ago?
  • Is it still relevant that someone visited the site actively nine months ago and then disappeared?
  • How accurate is all that personal information that has been collecting since tracking was started?
  • When you move to a new system, how much of the data do you transform and bring over?

This is where a little Information Governance can streamline your activities from the beginning. Like you would when applying the Principles of Holistic Information Governance to content, you need to assess the data, determine its useful life, and plan accordingly.

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A Release Note For Legacy Systems

I’ve often said that older systems haven’t innovated as much as they should have the past decade. Sure, the systems change and evolve, but have they really improved? Here is a quick look at what just about every release made in the last 10 years could have looked like.

imageAnnouncing SuperOld CMS 8.5!

We are proud to announce our newest version of SuperOld CMS. Right off, you will be impressed with the bigger version number which means more goodness for you.

For this release we listened to you and heard your concerns. In version 7.5 we placed our new critical features in a menu that our customers said was too hard to find. Now that you have had three years to learn exactly how to use those features, we have moved them to a more intuitive location. You won’t believe how easy it is to use now once you break three years of ingrained behavior!

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Why Choosing Content Management is Becoming More Critical

Waiting for GodotI have recently been talking in my presentations about organizations opting to do nothing about their Content problem. When looking at the prospect of rolling out a new Content Management System (CMS), it is a valid option. There is only one issue with that choice.

Each year, choosing to do nothing becomes a worse option.

Let’s take a moment to discuss why doing nothing is riskier now than it was in the past.

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Talking Business Solutions in Russia

In my last post, I talked about my trip to Russia. I was there to speak during the opening session of the ECM Ecosystem conference being put on by the Russian edition of PC Week. I thought I would share the English version of my presentation , The Shift to Business Solutions, and some of the related discussion that occurred during the panels.

Picking a Trend

For my talk, I was asked to highlight trends in the industry. While I mentioned the obvious candidates (Social, Mobile, Analytics/Big Data, and Cloud) in my talk, I chose to focus on the continuing shift towards Business Solutions. While not as obviously sexy as the others, it is one that is making Content Management easier to manage and handle.

I also picked this one because this is a trend that every organization can benefit from immediately. It is a focus on how to implement and execute Content Management, not how the concept needs to evolve.

After spending the week there, I was sure that I had chosen wisely.

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