I have been writing about content management techniques and technologies for EContent since June 2004, when I was 67 years old. Last June, I turned 72 and decided to refocus my energy on my longtime interest, information philosophy. I will tell you something about that in my December column, which will be my last.
Four and a half years of columns, on top of a couple of years prior studying content management systems at CMS Review, taught me a lot about how information is created, managed, and published today, especially on the web.
Most of the advice in my more than 80 columns and feature articles for EContent and other magazines such as the Society for Technical Communications’ Intercom magazine is pretty much as useful today as when I wrote it. I find I have been starting to repeat myself on basic methodologies.
My very first I Column Like I CM column (for the ECXtra enewsletter) was "Facets in Your Future"; it was about a flexible taxonomy-based navigation scheme. Information architecture was always a subtext. The column I wrote for the June 2008 issue was titled "Knowledge in the Information Age."
I narrowed my interests in the last few years when I discovered structured publishing, in which writers produce modules of content that are assembled on demand for web, print, and tutorials for training and tech support—Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)—and I joined the DITA standards development group at OASIS.
I have felt most useful to readers when I have tested and evaluated specific tools, such as DITA XML Editors or the Adobe Creative Suites of tools. My 2005 review of XML editors for EContent is still requested, and my specialized "DITA Tools From A to Z" for Intercom has been widely praised.
The next most interesting work for me has been reviewing the history of techniques as well as tools. My second ECXtra column was "CMS Genesis: Who Did What When?" Was there a basic feature set for a CMS? Which companies had first "separated presentation from content"? Where did "workflow" come from?
Every year, I survey the industry and note thousands of branded commercial CMSs around the world, and maybe twice that number of custom in-house publishing solutions. I have grown more than a bit tired of vendors describing standard features in revolutionary terms, replete with corporate jargon—as if they had invented them and not just renamed them. So again, I turn to study the history of the subject.
I found, with the help of historians in technical communications, that many techniques of modular content that we associate with computer content, such as the latest buzz about component content management, were actually practiced by companies not just before the computer but in colonial America! I wrote a history of structured publishing (http://dita.xml.org/book/history-of-dita).
I have been invited to write analyst reports and sell them for large sums, but I was never in this for the money. Although I earned rather large author’s fees in the 1990s writing for NewMedia magazine ($1 a word), all my recent work has been unpaid. These days, I write for the learning experience and to meet the people in the field, which has been great.
I also do it because I have wanted to produce my own content that could be single-sourced for publication on the web and in print, notably my hundreds of pages on information philosophy.
Will my advice be missed? I recommend that you look to analysts’ reports for the kind of information I have tried to provide. Some are expensive but well worth it. When I started CMS Review, I purchased a copy of the CMS Report from my fellow EContent contributing editor Tony Byrne at CMS Watch. Today his company produces several excellent reports, including one by my colleague Ann Rockley of The Rockley Group on, yes, component content management.
Gilbane offers a number of good resources, including its reports; after helping to organize a conference at Harvard in 2003 on open source CMSs, I wrote a Gilbane Report on them. Frank Gilbane, Bob Boiko, Byrne, Rockley, and I then founded CM Pros in 2004. For the state of open source CMS today, look at a report by Seth Gottlieb, an early director of CM Pros, and one by Ric Shreves of Water & Stone, which has the added benefit of being free (thanks, Ric!).
I have valued the process of creating these columns, and I hope that the information proffered has been of value to my readers. This is a vibrant industry that has grown a lot since I’ve been watching … and it still has growing to do.