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Something about ‘Readers’ and ‘Writers’

Most Content Management environments in organizations are designed in a 1-dimensional way, with 1 structure, 1 taxonomy, 1 set of properties etc. A kind of ‘one size fits all’ approach. That surprises me.

Every piece of content has one or more authors or ‘Writers’ and one or (hopefully) more ‘Readers’. Wouldn’t it be normal then to design the Content Management environment from at least 2 perspectives: the Writer’s view on the content and the Reader’s view?

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Let’s take the example of procedural documents (see previous blog post for the distinction between procedural and operational documents). Procedural documents are typically written by a few Writers (e.g. from the HR, Safety, QC or Risk departments) and have an audience of many readers (all employees, or all employees of 1 department, etc.). The Writers probably want to structure their documents from their perspective, which could be process-based, or risk-based or topic-based. The Readers on the other hand want to be able to access the documents in the working context in which they need to get informed: a call center agent will look for information based on a request from a customer, a branch officer will look for information about a specific product, etc. It is obvious that the authors’ perspective is not necessarily the same as the readers’ perspective. In fact in almost all cases they are different.

Why do we continue to design 1-dimensional content management structures in which Writers and Readers are forced to think in the same structures?

I guess that this way of thinking is deeply rooted in our brain because of the long history of classifying and storing paper documents in paper files on one hand, and the somewhat shorter history of filing electronic documents in a Windows file system on the other. The biggest limitation of both filing systems being that you can only create 1 hierarchical structure that needs to be used by everyone. (The work-around was, and sometimes still is, to file different copies of a document in different folders or cabinets.  Needless to say that such an approach creates more problems than it solves…)

The fact is that today you don’t have to think in 1 dimension anymore! Content Management systems like Microsoft’s SharePoint for instance offer you the possibility to create different views on the same information, allowing you to satisfy the needs of both Writers and Readers.

So here is the tip: the next time you want to structure information in your content management system, first ask yourself who is creating the content (the Writers) and who is using it (the Readers), and talk with them separately to understand their needs; then design your structure(s) accordingly.

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