Noun qualifiers of other nouns are ambiguous, especially when there are two or more. Newspaper editors know this – they use them extensively in their headings, as research shows that people interpret them in different ways. It helps persuade the headline skimmer to read, or at least start to read, the article.
The one that bugs me most is ‘content management system’ (CMS). Two different noun qualifiers, but which qualifies which of the three? From my experience they are content systems and management systems but rarely a system for managing the aggregated collection of content. Let me explain.
Many of the larger CMS come from an enterprise background where the task was to get in control of the many documents wandering around. They have a lot of functionality including nifty conversions from one format to another. And good tracking of where these documents are. They also often contain many tools for managing the workflow in their production, authoring, approving and publishing. The last is usually done by moving to a pre-publication area with a publisher role making the final act of releasing to the intended audience. Then Web came along and a functionality was added to send to a website.
There are also many content systems that store words, pictures and other media, in a structured way in a database and then publish to the Web by adding in (X)HTML coding and style sheets and, if the developer is smart, rules for displaying one or another type of content depending on the situation in the system or type of viewer. These come from a background of Web publishing and although they do that well, they usually don’t offer tools that work across the database.
What we need in government though is the third – content management:
- ‘Give me all the content that does not contain an entry in a particular metadata field and list with the contact emails of the authors.’
- ‘List all the pages that have been viewed only by internal staff.’
- ‘Find all the content containing expression X and change to Y and add to a new metadata field’
And, most of all,
- ‘Extract out all the content according to these rules, structure them in this particular way and send to go off to another CMS’.
It’s all do-able but so much hard work at present. We should have easy interfaces to manage content. I care, because we have many talented digital media staff in government (maybe not enough, but they are certainly there), who waste much of their time and effort in struggling with getting content in and out and between CMS’s. Usually because there is so little functionality to manage content across the whole collection and because exchange between systems is so difficult. There must be a much better way of doing this and so releasing government and public sector expertise to contribute to the public agenda. I’m carrying a banner to all those providers of CMS and web publishing services to say ‘Free our digital media experts!’
By doing more information structuring and using common structures, as we’ve been introducing for jobs and consultations, and have been done for a long while in press releases and descriptions of documents, we should be able to build systems that easily exchange information when there are machinery of government changes and that make it easy to manage the content. (And, of course, add in semantic web coding in a supported way!) Then we might be able to start describing systems as those that enable and facilitate content management.