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Monday, June 23, 2008

Content Reuse - The Heart of Content Management

2:24:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg No comments
I started working with content management in the late nineties. After having been involved as Usability Architect and Business Analyst in a couple of document management projects (we developed workflow solutions with web-based GUI on top of Eastman Software for a Swedish insurance company), I headed my first (web) content management project. The project designed, implemented and rolled out web sites for country distributors for a leading manufacturer of heavy trucks and buses. The distributor web sites where based on a common site blueprint and based on an early version of DialogServer (version 3) from Tridion. It was a successful project with many benefits for the customer.

The content management project demonstrated the value of content reuse and how it was made possible by content modularization and separation of content and format (using XML). Not only was the content (primarily text and images) to be reused in different locations on each web site, but it was also to be used on all web sites and translated to a large number of languages. Being able to reuse content (as well as code thanks to the templates) meant a quick a return of investment and made it possible to deal with all the inconsistent web sites of various quality that the country distributors had developed on their own.

As I had just left the world of document management and saw many similarities between document management and content management, I also came to realize that there is a fundamental difference between document management and content management. That difference is spelled R-E-U-S-E. Document management technologies and content management technologies might be similar, but the approach to content management is completely different from document management. While document management is often focusing on automating and routing documents in workflows and not really dealing with the actual content in the documents, content management is focusing on how to produce, structure, describe and organize content modules in order to assemble it into content products that can be made available to users in different formats and channels (web, e-mail, mobile, print and so on).

The idea with content reuse is to produce once and reuse many times. The same piece of content can be published to multiple formats and made available via different channels. For example, the individual components of a news article (title, abstract, body) can be presented in formats such as HTML, PDF or XML and be made available to the users via a web site, mobile portal, RSS feed or e-mail newsletter.

There are of course many advantages in being able to use the same piece of content in multiple content products and make it available to users in different formats and contexts. The most obvious is that you save time and money by not having to produce the same piece of content more than one time - you avoid or at least reduce duplicate work. Another advantage is that you achieve consistent communication in multiple channels. By designing content to be reused, you also increase quality and usability of the content.

To sum up, the idea of content reuse is what fundamentally separates content management from document management. To be able to reuse content, you need to be able to modularize it and keep the format and content separated. This can be done with a content management system but not with document management system.

However, achieving content reuse is more about methodology than technology. Content reuse might sound easy in theory, but is hard in practice. It is nothing you can achieve by buying and implementing a content management system. Many organizations have eventually come to realize this. To achieve content reuse a different way of thinking and working is required. Content management is primarily an approach and methodology for how to produce, manage and deliver content. With reuse as one of the primary goals.

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