in content development

Content Cowboys and the need for wranglers

It’s a really strange thing when you start to deal with CMS vendors and understand the way that they do the things they do.

What do I mean?

I mean that it’s really interesting how they spend all of this time building products that are sold as newer/faster/better than what’s already out there in the status quo, but in reality, it’s just another layer of closed-source software that’s going to find ways to keep your institution locked into their tools for as long as possible.

That’s fine if you’re thinking about it from the perspective of profitability and trying to keep your company in business. But from the concept of having open information access and portability of data over a period of time, it’s the absolute worst idea ever.

Here’s an example:

In so many instances, I see situations where you have internal constituents such as faculty, staff or even students who avoid using the web site completely and create their own external things in open-source or free programs online such as Blogger or WordPress, because it’s easier for them to use and gives them rapid access without having to wade through the institutional bureaucracy.

I don’t think I blame them, even if from where I’ve sat, it can be a real pain to deal with that from a control of content perspective.

I guess there isn’t a real compelling financial interest for web design consultants to offer clients clear solutions, to charge a fixed fee for that and then to work together to deliver what they need from start to finish, irrespective of a need to lump additional services or other value-added ways to force the client to stay with you whether they like it or not.

In other words, your web consulting firm shouldn’t be like your cell phone company.

If you communicate well, give people what they want, help them break down barriers and help them develop a product that’s going to have some lasting value, then you’ve done your job. Hopefully, they’ll tell their friends about it and you’ll get continual business. If not, well you learn and keep working with people and go from there.

But giving people a content management system for CMS sake with SO many options that already exist in the field that doesn’t do anything new, different or better than what’s already out there is maybe a great way to line your pockets, but it’s not really a sustainable way to help people manage their content.

To ask reasonably intelligent individuals who might even do this for a living to spend an inordinate amount of time becoming familiar with institutional corporate nomenclature for otherwise ordinary things that people in the status quo are using and employing everyday is just another way to increase the barriers to entry for institutional folks are able to do things that their ordinary friends do. Meaning they’ll take your flashy new CMS with all of its xyz-million features and just go around it to do all of the stuff they were going to do before in the tools they know how to use.

You can teach them, you can invest time to train them and the fact is, the gargantuan investment of time involved is unlikely to be recouped in the long run.

Mimicking the flawed institutional problems that plague higher ed in the way we deliver web development and strategic services to them will not improve the minefield. It does give those willing to detach from it, an opportunity to thrive.

  1. very interesting. Tools that only serve to complicate what they were intended to simplify. What a concept.

    I’m very glad that most of our departments are using WordPress, and not the kind of cms packages you’re describing.

  2. Ron,

    Good stuff! I can particularly relate today because I spent the whole afternoon in a workshop to train faculty and staff on our CMS that was purchased two years ago for tens of thousands of dollars. We purchased it to “put the control of content back in department hands”, but after two years experience and training literally hundreds of users i’ve very pessimistic that the 20+ people we trained I’m lucky if a third update content more than once. Not to mention I’ve trained probably a quarter of those individuals previously.

    I’m all about empowering people and spending the time to teach, but I’m also a realist and have a long track record to back my pessimism. :)

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