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.

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.

Continue reading

ECM, Content Services, or Just Doing It?

"It's deja-vu all, all over again." - Yogi BerraRecently, Gartner issued a note announcing The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services. This has been met with several, mixed responses. Many pointed out to Gartner that many of us have been talking about this for years. I wrote a post on Content Services, Not ECM back in 2013. Going even further back, the concept of Content Services is core to Content Management Interoperability Services. In 2009 I outlined the three fundamental use cases for CMIS, or any content service.

I could spend all day linking to old posts but I want to take some time to bring something new to the discussion. A lot has changed over the years and perspectives have been refined. The last few days have seen my mind wandering and debating this whole topic in my spare, and not so spare, time.

Let me sum it up for you, it is a false dichotomy. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is not a thing you buy. It should not be taken into isolation. Content Services is useless as a replacement as it is completely different.

Let me break this down.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Why We Don’t Have an Enterprise Data Management Problem

Finally pulling out the analogy to end all analogies in the argument of whether or not Enterprise Content Management is dead or alive. Honestly, it never existed and we need to focus on Content Services. Dan Antion, an AIIM Board Member, disagrees with me. While I never let someone disagreeing with me slow me down, Dan is a smart guy and a friend. When he feels that ECM is alive and real, I pay attention.

I have one question for Dan. How is his Enterprise Data Management system working out?

Continue reading

Content Services, Not ECM

Recently I’ve been trying to walk a narrow path. I have all but pronounced Enterprise Content Management (ECM) dead, and yet I have expressed a belief that Content Services need to be embedded into business applications.

The question is two-fold. How can you serve Content Services without a platform? Isn’t that ECM with a different name?

Yes and no.

Let’s dissect this apparent contradiction.

Continue reading