“I write, therefore I own that part of the site.” Well, not so much.
How do we align the interests of content owners, with those of the people we put in charge of our websites, on which their content sits? As a librarian who spent years working in traditional bricks and mortar libraries, that this issue exists at all still stumps me. Authors of books don’t have a say in how the content they’ve written is displayed, where or how it’s classified or organized or when I decide to “weed” it (library speak for remove), from the shelves altogether.
So why is it that we have empowered those who write web content in our organizations to come to believe that they have not only a say in where we put their content on the site, but even control over how it should be styled, which section in the information architecture it should fit beneath, or – forbid this – that it doesn’t fit at all so we need a new section, just for this, that they name themselves. Only once it’s up on the site do they cede control to someone, (and often this someone doesn’t exist), to make sure it’s still relevant and up-to-date. So our sites become filled with ROT (redundant, out-of-date, trivial content).
We can definitely start with looking at web governance. And not just in terms of the web content. Typically the subject matter experts who write the web content are cracker-jack experts in their fields or departments; they do know better than anyone what needs to be written. This doesn’t mean they know a whit about usage or who their users really are. It doesn’t mean they know about how to structure an information architecture that’s scalable, or how to apply metadata to their content so it can be found, to name a few of the phases in which, too often, they stick their oar.
Before we can “fix” our governance issues, we need to understand first, what are the procedures that we have in place now to manage our websites, or more broadly, our online assets. Who is in charge of those procedures and what processes support them? This understanding of our “as is” state, though, often exposes as big an issue with our websites: the Design and Development process over which we do need governance is inherently flawed. So, really, is governance the issue, (and the question invariably is yes), or is establishing a process that will lead to a “better” website the issue (again, the answer is invariably, yes).
This may sound like a bit of chicken and egg. But think about it: if our process is flawed; if we don’t conduct customer and user research, if we don’t do any research with real users to inform our IA or usability testing to validate our early interaction designs, then good governance won’t help us get to the point which is at the heart of all this: we want to create, maintain and enhance our online assets at a reasonable cost and without the collateral damage of disgruntled, confused, and frustrated staff who are charged to do just that.
Cindy Beggs, MLS, is Vice President of Experience Research at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.Akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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