When Content Was King..

For one reason or another this last week has had me thinking alot about my early days working on the web.  I started my web career in 1998 working at the library at the University of the West of England and back then the only qualification you needed to be left in charge of the web pages was a willingness to learn.

This was a different time on the web and one where the phrase ‘content is king’ held a great deal of currency (and that content was really just text).  As someone with totally unrealistic ambitions of being first some kind of writer and then later a librarian (not so unrealistic but ultimately unfulfilled) it was this focus on the content that drew me to the web.  I was never very interested in coding and my idea of good design is usually sprayed on the side of a building and that wasn’t very transferable!  My focus in those early years was very much on learning all I could about content management strategies, writing for the web, usability (back in the days before Jakob sold out) and accessibility issues.  I managed to build a nice little niche for myself as well and before I knew it had something resembling a career.  Somewhere along the line though my head was turned by the shiny new social web world and I became less and less inspired by these activities.

Two (and a half) things this week made me reconsider that though – the first was a blog post by Neil Franklin about the work of a guy called Gerry McGovern who writes an email newsletter (how very web 0.5) called New Thinking which is a brilliant resource focused on the less glamorous (but maybe more important) elements of running a large website.  I immediately subscribed to the newsletter and recommended it to others and to some extent regret I’m no longer in a position to implement the ideas I read there (at least not for another year or so).

The other main thing was that quite by coincidence I had ordered Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson after reading an interview with her on the Carsonified blog.  This is a pretty slim volume that is written in a purposely informal style that makes a great deal of sense if doesn’t say an awful lot new to anyone who has been through the process of managing a large content heavy site.  It is a great checklist for experienced ‘content strategists’ though and a brilliant how-to guide for someone embarking on that sort of work for the first time.  The greatest use of the book though is almost certainly for those senior managers (and others) who simply do not understand the complexities of managing a large website and that just buying a CMS doesn’t solve the problems on its own.

Finally I was sat in a meeting on Friday and about half way through I realised that it was mainly the knowledge and experience I gained in a more Web 1.0 period that was going to be help me be of value to the project and that this trip down memory lane was timely as I might need to brush off some old skills!

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