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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

Last week, I was at a content management conference, where I heard two very opposing views of content. One was a technology view; a belief that, with the right software, most content problems could be solved in a cheap and efficient manner. The second was a people view; a belief that content was, at heart, about people writing, editing and publishing, with technology playing very much a supporting role.

Technologists are true believers. They have this fervent faith in the power of software to transform. Their hardware tools are their prize possessions. One presenter became really excited when he told us of this 'neat' piece of software that could summarize documents. It was cheap, it was efficient, it was amazing. His eyes literally lit up and a bounce came to his step, as he waved his arms and enthused about its potential.

As he went on about this great new invention, I began to wonder about what sort of summaries it wrote. Even for skilled writers, summaries are difficult. I simply can't imagine that a piece of software will go through a 30-page document and write a 100-word summary that properly describes that document.

However, the thing that really struck me about this and other presenters was that they had no feel for content. Their whole worlds revolved around technology. It seemed that for these presenters, the fact that they were getting their content over a mobile phone was more important than the actual content they were getting.

The wrong people are in charge of too many content projects. Content is not a technology problem.

Content is about people. People who understand content are enthused by the content itself, not the technology that is used to deliver that content. When I heard a former editor get up and talk about an intranet content management project he was managing, it all became very clear to me. This person cared about the quality of the writing. Another woman presenter fretted about whether her summaries were too long; about whether more people would read them if they were shorter.

People who are professional about content take great care to publish content of the highest possible quality. They may have spent weeks writing a 30-page report. Letting a piece of software write the summary is anathema to such professionals.

The heading and summary is what draws the reader in. It's even more important online because search results will only present a heading and summary.

When I talked to the technologist about the importance of the heading and summary, he shrugged. He recognized the argument but I could see that he had no intention of not using this auto-summary software.

I would plead with all organizations which are running content-rich websites (and all quality websites should be content-rich), to have them managed by people who put the content first and the technology second. We all know what happens when the technologists (with a little help from marketers) think they understand content; it's called WAP.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
Order Today!

The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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