More on building a Culture of Content Part I

by john on January 2, 2003

To further my thoughts on building a Culture of Content I would like to address the following insightful comment from Henry:

Why do you think that access to weblogs would necessarily create a “culture of content” as opposed to the noise generated by Yahoo! groups? Maybe I’m simply cynical, but I don’t see how introducing the technology without a moderator will be useful. And if there needs to be multiple moderators in an enterprise (let’s say 1000+ employees), does the discourse come at too high a price for the company?

I need to be clear that when I write about the place for blogging within a corporation I am talking about two different points – the use of a Movable Type like application to make publishing “formal” content to an intranet site more readily accessible to everyone and the use of an informal network of blogging to bind an organization together at the grass-roots level.

I’ll discuss the first here and get to the second later.

Companies spend fortunes on intranets and the payback usually proves to be minimal. What begins with the grandest of intentions ends up as a graveyard of outdated press releases, HR forms and christmas party pictures.

Companies who have been able to move beyond an intranet that is nothing more than a simple file server have done it because they have invested heavily on the human capital side – usually by way of the “moderator” or “publisher” method. Entire teams of people whose job it is to keep the content on the intranet fresh. Poring over web logs to ensure content is accessible. Working closely with the business units to develop new content. Leveraging robust enterprise level Content Management Software to make it all happen.

There are two problems that I see with this and why I think blogging tools like Movable Type will make great inroads into corporations.

It doesn’t have to be that complicated. And it doesn’t have to be that expensive.

The bigger a company gets and the more it spends on enterprise level Content Management Software (or frankly, Enterprise anything) the more complex a solution is built. An enterprise level application tries to be all things to all people and so is architected in such a complex fashion that while it is true it can handle a tank is that really what is required?

Consider how simple it would be to build a set of MT templates where each template held the content for a particular category of post. The categories could map to the business units of the organization, or a hierarchy of categories within each BU could be defined.

In an era where we are hiring more and more people comfortable with personal publishing we have to ensure that the systems we employ in the corporate setting are as easy to use and as robust as they use at home.

In my company (software company, ~1,300 employees) we are currently implementing a new intranet system based on one of those enterprise CMS systems I’m referring to. We have implemented a “microsite” model with each microsite having a “publisher” whose job it is to ensure the content of their site is kept fresh and with useful content. Corporate communications owns the “front page.” In some cases the publisher provides and writes up all of the content. In others the publisher is nothing more than a gatekeeper. And in others we have no publisher. If the system is simple I think the company can absorb this cost. But if it is not and these people spend a significant amount of time playing this role then I agree that the cost to the company is too high. What we are seeing right now is that it’s too complicated.

Like many teams implementing enterprise software we are trying to implement as close to “out of the box” as possible. The problem is it’s so damned complex that we have to train the publishers not only on HTML but the archaic conventions used by the software to maintain the repository of documents. And the reality is that not every group has anyone that can do this, and so the task falls to IT. Which means there is an additional separation between the knowledge worker who owns the content to the person who is actually able to post it.

The intranet must be built on a technology that is so simple that anyone can use it (which makes it cheaper to use) and that it becomes as natural as sending an email.

What I’m talking about is already being done today by thousands of companies. Some have implemented expensive CMS, some have implemented not-so-expensive CMS and others have whipped up something in Cold Fusion, ASP or PH I’m not advocating anything out of the ordinary here.

The first aspect of the Culture of Content then is a CMS that allows for a depth and breadth of publishing and site creation that is simple to use. It could be an expensive enterprise level CMS or it could be something like Movable Type. The most important aspect is to make it easy to publish.

In Part II I’ll get to the more controversial point of fostering a network of bloggers within the corporation.


Henry January 3, 2003 at 12:04 pm

It probably kills you to think of what you could have used the funds that purchased the enterprise CMS for…

Besides MT, what other CMS products do you find intriguing? I ask because I’ve managed to get approval to use open-source in the creation of a new intranet portal. Any thoughts? And yes, we’ll look into MT as well.

john January 4, 2003 at 2:28 pm

I’m reminded yearly when the maintenance bill comes. 🙂

Seriouslly, I should point out that the CMS system I am talking about was really an add-on to an overall bigger deal, but it is a hot topic for me because our CTO was very passionate about the vision of what could be.

I don’t have any input for you on open-source CMS solutons, but I will look forward to reading on your site about the direction you go. Good luck to you.

Jr January 8, 2003 at 9:37 am is a good site to check out. Here’s a list of CMS products they monitor:

Most on the list are open-source apps. Midgard is a popular PHP tool. Bricolage on the Perl-side.

Although MT is not listed, I do consider blog-like apps to be micro content management systems, and if additional features are added to a blog app, it can satisfy the CMS needs for many. Chapter 8 in the book “We Blog” or at the website is helpful.

Here’s another open-sourced workgroup blog app:

Scoop, used to power, is an app I’m interested in learning. I think it can be used as a CMS app for internal companies.

But don’t think of blog apps as just CMS tools. I believe they can also be used for knowledge or information management systems. When workgroups are posting to their area of the intranet, valuable knowledge can be accumulated. A new person to the group can read the workgroup blog.

If an Intranet app allows each user to maintain their own personal work-oriented blog or journal the way Scoop does and YAWNS (search Freshmeat), this can also become a valuable source of information.

We all collect web links for tutorials, white-papers, etc. A person in a software workgroup that’s just learning PHP or .NET, can do a search across everyone’s personal work-blogs and find information that reduces their learning curve, provided experienced programmers have been logging things such as code snippets, “gotchas”, websites, useful books, etc.

At my last company, I maintained my own work-blog with Greymatter. I then wrote community and personal-based blogging tools that worked within Plumtree. When I left, I gave the keys to my blog to my manager. I blogged upgrades, problems, fixes, ideas, websites, documentation, meeting notes, e-mail messages, anything I thought useful to my job. With a search function, it was easy to find out when I made that upgrade, or how was that problem resolved last time.

I agree 100% with your article. Nice job. I’ve been banging my head against this wall for two years with my “former” employer. I tried, in vain, to get people to publish content in much simpler ways.

For two years, I have been programming with and administering Plumtree at my last employer. Plumtree is an enterprise information portal. It’s not good for CMS, but they provide a CMS add-on at an additional cost, of course.

Another area of my former company began implementing the Gauss VIP content management system. I got a taste of that system last fall. I documented over 20 steps required to post a simple announcement or press release. Gauss has to be the poster child for unnecessary complexity in an Intranet tool.

It was suppose to allow other people to post content without requiring IT. Not so, as you mention in your article. It’s so damn complex and hideous that IT will be involved in posting content.

I resigned from this company a couple of months ago, so I can focus on developing my own community blog app that I will target to small businesses and non-profit organizations as a CMS/KMS tool.

There is a company proclaiming to offer “Enterprise Weblog” software:

Traction does contain some interesting features and ideas.

Anyway, like you say in your article, big companies with big budgets will spend big dollars for complexity. If it doesn’t cost zillions of dollars, and if it doesn’t take a team of programmers 12-18 months to implement, then big companies don’t want it.

I will not waste my time trying to break through that kind of thinking. I believe smaller businesses with limited budgets will be more receptive, provided they can see the value in the application.

A couple of sites I read that provide insight into the CM and KM arenas:

Here’s someone else’s experience with implementing a blog at work.

Finally, here’s an interesting idea for implementing a low-cost knowledge managemant weblog or Klog.

As we know, blogs are popular on the Internet. Maybe more blogging is occurring behind the firewalls, and we are just not aware of it, but I doubt it.

I think Blogging will follow a path to the corporations similar to that of Linux and Open Source software. It starts out as something useful or as a hobby at home and on the public Internet, but it creeps into the companies as people see how valuable the app is.

Here’s a good article about blogs as a disruptive technology within companies.

john January 8, 2003 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for the great comments, I’m going to spend some time going through them and I’ll probably write up a response later. About to unplug to go back to Minneapolis.

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