Thursday, 18 June 2009

CMS control, who does what - a rant inspired by Sarah

So, having read Sarah's blog on content management and devolved authorship, I figured I'd give my own 10 pence worth.

Firstly, with devolved authorship, I want to point out that I think it is a good idea in principle. The theory behind it is sound - the people who work in a service tend to have the best knowledge of the service and should be able to update information accordingly. However, this is also the biggest hindrance when it comes to devolved authorship.

Service staff are embedded with the jargon and structure of a service. It's what they use day in day out. No matter how many times you mention plain English, web writing guidance, page tree structure or anything else to do with the way you want information to appear, they will always fall back onto what they know (with few exceptions).

This ultimately makes life difficult for any comms team who have to manage this.

I don't have definitive answers on what should be done to correct this, if I did I would be earning a fair bit more than I do now.

Who should update the site?
There is often a gut reaction to this question by going straight for devolved authorship. Build up a network of web authors who are responsible for their own little bit of the site.

If using this approach, you are putting your fate in the hands of people picking their own who you then have to train and guide through the process of adding content. Sometimes it comes up trumps and you get someone who has a knowledge of the web, or who picks up on the principles quickly and is eager to learn.

At other times this is not the case. You find people uninterested, almost hostile, at being given this new work to do as well as their "normal" job. If your editors are not engaged with the project and what you want to achieve then it can only fail.

An alternative is to have a team who's job is to update content all day, every day, based on requests from services. This is safer, as you have a dedicated team who know the place inside out, are clued up on editing, plain English and corporate style and can drive the site content exactly how they want.

Knowledge and boredom are the two key issues with this approach. Updating content all day, every day with no time devoted to development and improvement means that editors can quickly become bored and lazy - leading to mistakes. Secondly, corporate editors may have knowledge of updating websites, but not of the services they are writing about. Which could lead to gaps in information.

A third option is one we have discussed here (thanks to Mark) but I don't know if anyone has adopted this approach. Has anyone considered using customer services staff to update the website? They speak to people all the time, know the information people ask for, know how to answer questions. They are a valuable communications tool with a good "general" knowledge of the organisation.

Who is in charge?
A corporate web editing team is always needed in my opinion (not just to justify my existence). No matter who updates the information, someone has to police it. Having to "approve" all updates to the site I think is a reasonable mid point between doing it all yourself and letting everyone go crazy on their own.

You can send inadequate information back, fix minor errors where necessary and act as the go to point for people with questions. A team dedicated the the site will have a good knowledge of what is on the site (especially useful when the site is huge) and how it works (cms, plug ins, form building etc)

How many editors should we have?
This is dependant on the size of the corporate team managing them. The bigger the web team, the more editors they can handle.
I'd ideally say that 2-3 per major service (recycling, housing etc) would be plenty. This is just my opinion though and it could be wrong.

I would rather have a few editors willing to learn, work and that can be trusted than hundreds who update less often and make mistakes.

This is always a problem with devolved authorship. There can be an overlap of information (housing - benefits - council tax anyone?). If you restrict (through work flow) who can edit parts of the site then you can combat this, but you can get people needing to edit information not in their "area".

Give everyone access to the majority of the site, after all, a team should be there to ensure that the updates are done properly.

Also, to avoid repetition, make editors responsible for classes of information, not for services based on an internal structure. As an example: an editor can update benefits information and link it back to both housing and council tax, not just update the information for a particular benefit.

To conclude...

It shouldn't go on just to tick a box, but only if it is RELEVANT to users. My suggestions are as follows:
  • Treat editors as individuals with various levels of ability. Be flexible to accommodate this
  • Make web editors provide a case for putting info online, a "form" (that replicates the info you want) does this. If you can fill it in, it goes up, if not, no need for it
  • Learn to say no
  • Pick editors carefully, look throughout the organisation and discuss with services before letting them make their own choices.
  • Keep editors informed, make them feel part of something.
  • Know your site and your CMS inside out - you will be the "go to" point if people get stuck.
I think that'll do for now, we could talk about this all day. I'm sure some of you disagree but then, that makes the conversation more interesting...

Friday, 27 February 2009

Can a map make a valid website navigation tool?

After recent discussions about site structure and navigation, it hit me that we are possibly missing a trick with one of our apps, with the potential to be as valid a navigation tool as a menu, A-Z or search box.

Im talking about our online map. Its a tasty bit of kit, where we can easily add layers of information based on a type of service, building, facility, sport - whatever is useful really. You can view the map at

Now, this might be going out on a limb but could the map be used as a way to search for service information, things you find useful - with the added bonus of showing you where they are in relation to transport links, your home, and providing some sort of direction about how local to you the services are.

By linking map entries to service pages, and visa versa, you are providing people with the ability to find whats close to them (using common headings) and then providing them with a one click way of getting more details about the service.

It's unlikely that this would be as popular, or well used as a search box. Especially without some major changes in user habits and major promotion of the tool in itself. But i think there is (at least some limited) potential there. Giving people something visual to look at, a map, a picture, you are providing them with a greater connection to where services are locally, and how to access them, instead of just words they scan on a page.

In addition, the map itself should not be limited to services in our council. It should provide details of things like hospitals, pharmacies, leisure facilities etc in neighbouring councils. Service users dont care which is run by their council and which isn't. They aren't going to go to a different park becuase it's the right side of an imaginary line, they just wnat to see what is close to where they live. This is doubly true for the hospitals list where people will get sent to regardless of its proximity to home location.

Anyway, I havent thought too in depth about this, just thought it might be something for you to chew on....comments and ideas as always please :) just avoid puns about maps and navigation (i know, i know).

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Yammer….internal social media in the workplace.

I got an invite today to yammer from work colleagues. It’s basically an internally networked twitter. If you have the same email extension (eg then it will hook you up and give you somewhere to communicate.

To quote yammer:

Yammer is a tool for making your organization more productive through the exchange of status updates and group messages.

You can use Yammer to:

  • Stay connected with co-workers
  • Start a discussion
  • Share news, documents and links
  • Ask or answer questions
  • Create a group mailing list
  • Look up a co-worker's contact info
  • Search for a topic
  • See what's popular and who's influential

This is particularly relevant as I had a brief tweet with the SDCDevTeam team guys about internal social media. It’s a brilliant concept, and could be really useful for internal comms on a more “friendly and social” level. Who knows – information sharing throughout the authority without “just ticking the boxes” could promote best practise and allow services to actually communicate in an effective manner.

However, its early days and I have reservations. This isn’t a Wayne’s world environment where “if you book them they will come”. As already discussed with SDCDevTeam – you can lead a horse to water, but not force them to drink. I believe a tool like this could really work but only if there is an effective internal marketing campaign to promote it, and a reason to ACTUALLY use it.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Is your contingency in place

This first post came about because of the recent severe weather events that much of the UK has encountered.
At work, some of us struggled in and managed to get the site updated, messages out to press etc etc. But what if we couldnt access the work network? what if we couldnt update the LA website?

I sat and thought about this for a while and then realised there was a whole heap of freely available tools that we could use to get information out and update free of the constraints of being logged into a particular network. Becuase of this we set the following up:

A windows live mail address so that we had an email address we can access from anywhere and that service areas can send information to. I chose hotmail because on signing up we also 25GB of secure online storage in their "skydrive" that we can keep emergency contact information for press/web staff, service area contacts and lists of schools etc. One person can access this and distribute the information as it comes in to whoever else needs it (we have a handy list of phone numbers and personal email addresses of comms staff to work from).

We also set up a blog: to place service disruption updates and emergency messages on. Again, having this independant of the council's main website makes updating it easy and free of the constraints of the council network.

As long as we can get a link to this blog on the LA homepage (be it through a static permanent link or an element that can be updated freely from anywhere) then we can still provide information.

Problem solved?

Feel free to comment or give any alternative ideas

Hi all

Set a blog up for work and decided to set one up for myself aswell. Lets see if i have anything interesting to say