On web content publishing

The World Wide Web is an amazing place.  There are literally billions of pages of web sites and documents out there to be found.  And of those billions, if not trillions, of web pages and documents out there, only a miniscule proportion of that content will be of any use to you.  That’s because the content is unbounded – anyone can put up a web page or a document onto the World Wide Web.

But intranets are different.  An intranet is a bounded web environment, usually within an organisational context.  The intranet is a major information and communication platform for an organisation.  As such, an intranet needs to be considered as a significant organisational resource and treated with a great deal of respect.

Respected web content expert, Gerry McGovern, writes about information content and information quality on the intranet: ” [look at] the web ‘management’ approach called distributed publishing. The theory was: buy the tool, train people to use it and watch them go. What happened? Each division or department that the publishing tool was distributed to sought to publish to the website with the absolute minimum resource input. If ever there was a disastrous non-strategy it is distributed publishing. It led to website junkyards full of vanity publishing and out of date garbage … We need to seriously raise the standard. Anybody can put up a document. It requires precious little skill to write boring, vain, unreadable, organization-centric content”.

Writing and publishing for an organisation’s intranet requires a number of important skills – skills that cannot be obtained by a quick one hour lesson in uploading documents into a content management system!  The decentralised approach has generally failed because these skills have not been developed in the administrators responsible for the content decisions and content uploads of their intranet.  Moreover, little training or advice has been provided to these people about the difference between web content and print content publishing – there is a big difference!

A centralised and specialised intranet/internet publishing team is probably the best way to go to ensure quality and effective control over content.  However, there is a problem here.  A centralised web team is often removed from the important happenings within the organisation that warrant good content publishing.  And given the small size of many intranet teams, they don’t have the time to search and edit and publish the content themselves.  They do rely on content generation from outside the intranet team.  There is thus a potential schism between content and control. 

And of course, there is also some cost cutting thinking from senior management in having a small intranet team and relying on decentralised intranet content administrators.  This is usually the result of senior management having no idea about intranet content and intrant publishing, and certainly a lack of respect to what an intranet can do for the organisation.

One practical option is to provide decentralised administrators with proper training (or even at the recruitment stage) about web content management and web publishing.  The administrators need to be part of the intranet “team” and they need to know that web content publishing is about solving problems for people within the organisation; not boosting egos.  The decentralised system can work if there is sufficient effort put into recruitment, training and ongoing support for these people about web content management.  This is actually no different to what should happen throughout the organisation to ensure quality and effective workforce participation.

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