Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-Boettcher introduces the casual end-user or first time content manager to structured web content and provides a quick course in the connection for how things are stored and how they can be deployed. It is very familiar in tone and the author presents a potentially deep and intricate topic (one that simply dares distraction) in a logical manner.The various sections build from a case underlying the need for structuring and simplifying web content to methods to structure and encode to the various processes that aid in its deployment to the web. Simple and logical. Much of the tone is informal and sometimes the prose comes across as being a bit of a booster session to get the crowd behind the home team. At times as well, the references to other authors and works gives the volume a bit of an academic feel. However, this may well be positive for many and only troubling for a few. For me it initially felt like a little bit of nudging inside a clique — but it is substantiation for the need and the process proposed and makes for a well reasoned, and systematically compelling approach. I know I am being somewhat even handed here, but I found myself at two minds as I was reading the book.
This volume should not be mistaken for a hands-on, case driven learning manual. It seems more intended to demonstrate the philosophical underpinnings and get the use thinking about the whys and wherefores of the task at hand than proposing specific ways to tackle the process of content deployment. The process proposed is a solid one and I don’t mean for my critique to sound less than positive. Know your content –> consider your audience –> allow for the unanticipated –> and stick with the standards. All wonderful reminders and certainly reinforcing best practice. In many instances as well, Wachter-Boettcher provides a very clean and concise exploration of the particular language surrounding structured content. This is particularly valuable for those working as part of groups and needing to communicate with colleagues tasked with different parts of the content deployment process. Getting up to speed rapidly with the finer parts of content structuring, being able to ask the right questions and do so using the appropriate terms is perfectly suited for the audience of this book. I am a huge fan of making sure you invest the time in advance of the project with getting a feel for what you are facing. Taking the time to turn a funding proposal into a true project plan has been a constant mantra of mine for the past decade. All too often its a skipped step and the cost in the end can be very high. Learning about how to content model and work with specialists in information architecture for example is valuable in any guise.
There is much to praise in this book. It covers a wide swathe of information management beyond purely content management and the treatment is if largely intended to be an overview — a very thorough one and the references to others work and the interjection of use cases (Q&As with a variety of practitioners) are good pointers for where to go for deeper information. The prose as mentioned is very approachable and the author likes her puns and playful turns of phrase — ‘the semantics of semantics’, or ‘the lowdown on mark down’ to throw a couple at you. The volume is well illustrated, both with custom graphics to give it a lively feel and with screen shots and diagrams that do help to illustrate concepts and cases being discussed. I like the look and feel of the book. It’s friendly and fun and approaches a dry topic in an engaging fashion. The author makes a strong case for structured content for greater reusability and this book will suit anyone who wants to read and absorb content to get up to speed. It will not suit those that like a hands-on series of exercises or look for an easily scannable reference book to fall back on when facing a specific problem. This is as I mentioned a short course to bring one up to speed with content management best practises. In that it succeeds admirably and if this style suits you you have found your friend. 200 pages or so of great messages, pithy thoughts, useful references to use cases and all well and thoughtfully presented.