Ann Rockley, The Rockley Group
Information Architecture of Content Management
When people think about content management, they generally think about
it from a systems perspective, focusing primarily on tools and technology.
While it is true that content management usually requires a technological
solution, it also requires that content be designed for reuse, retrieval,
and delivery to meet your authors' and customers' needs. Content management
requires that tools be configured to support authoring, reviewing, and publishing
tasks, but first, those tasks must be designed. Designing content and the
processes to create, review, and publish it is what information architecture
is all about. The Information Architecture section of The Rockley Report will
focus on the different aspects of information architecture for content management.
This article introduces you to some of the components of information architecture
that we will cover in The Rockley Report over time.
Information architecture has become synonymous with information architecture
for the web. However, as more organizations are adopting content management
systems to manage both web and enterprise content, there is a new area of
information architecture emerging—the information architecture of content
management. One of the key factors for a successful content management implementation
is a solid information architecture. Too often organizations implement content
management without identifying the authors' needs, without looking closely
at the content to determine how it could be most effectively structured to
support user/customer needs, and without analyzing their current and desired
content life cycle. This results in resistance to adoption, increased costs,
and failure to achieve the desired results. Information architecture can make
a significant contribution to the success of your content management solution.
This is a view supported by Lou Rosenfeld, (www.louisrosenfeld.com),
an information architecture consultant and co-author of Information
Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites .
Rosenfeld has been instrumental in establishing the industry of information
architecture for the web and points out:
When it comes to making content accessible, content management
and information architecture are two sides of the same coin. Authors and end
users alike benefit from intelligent design and well-organized processes. 
People like Lou Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, Christina Wodtke and others
in the information architecture and information design industry have laid
the groundwork for a move to information architecture for content management
beyond the web.
The components of information architecture
There are a number of components of information architecture that are
key in building a solid base for a content management implementation. They
include analysis, content models, granularity, metadata, reuse and repository
architectures, reuse management, and content management. We introduce you
to these components in this article, and will delve into them more deeply
in future issues of The Rockley Report.
Good information architecture requires that you start with a thorough
analysis of your organizations' needs, your current and desired content life
cycle, your customers' needs, the state of your current content, and your
technological requirements. During the analysis phase, you need to look at
your content very closely to determine how it's put together and the types
of content it contains. This will help you to determine opportunities for
reuse. You also need to talk to the people who create and use the content
to learn what their issues are. This will help you to determine problem areas
in work processes that can be addressed in workflow.
One of the most critical phases of your information architecture is
building the content models on which your content management strategy is based. Content modeling
involves identifying and documenting the structure of your content in detail.
During the content modeling phase, you determine the elements required for
each information product (or output) and how each information product will
be designed for optimum usability and reuse. Content models define the structure
and organization of your information products, indicating which individual
elements they contain, their frequency, and their usage (e.g., is an element
optional or mandatory). Models become the road map for your content and are
used to develop DTDs/schemas (if you are using XML), or content frameworks
Granularity of content
Designing the granularity of your content can sometimes be problematic.
Authors typically like content very granular so they know exactly what to
put into an element (e.g., overview, procedure step). Very granular content
usually results from more semantic models (models with tags that indicate
the meaning of the element such as “overview” instead of tags
with generic names such as “body” or “para”). Highly
semantic models are more problematic for style sheet designers because all
unique elements require an individual style. Because semantic names by their
nature are unique, all semantically-named elements require their own styles.
Granularity also affects how you reuse content. Content that is too
granular can be difficult to manage in your content management system, but
content that is not granular enough may not be as reusable. Accordingly, CMS
developers may push back on the level of granularity, opting for content that
is not granular. Analysis of reusability, authoring processes, and tools is
important when determining granularity and as you develop your information
architecture, you will make changes to your granularity as you determine the
optimum level of granularity for everyone.
There are typically two types of metadata: categorization metadata and
element metadata. Users tend to retrieve information based on categorization
metadata, whereas authors tend to retrieve information based on element metadata.
Categorization metadata is used extensively on web sites to categorize content
for effective retrieval. It is also used extensively in document management
to classify documents for storage. Authors, on the other hand, use element
metadata to classify elements of content for reuse, retrieval, and tracking.
Care should be taken to ensure that you can retrieve your elements once stored.
Your ability to reuse information is only as good as your ability to find
it. And if you employ systematic reuse (see Reuse architecture)
your metadata must be very thorough so that the system can correctly find
and populate the content into the required information products and into the
required places within information products. Like granularity, metadata design
also continues to develop as you refine your architecture.
Content can be reused within an information product, across information
products, and potentially across the enterprise. Traditionally, the most common
form of reuse has been opportunistic, meaning that authors make a decision
whether to reuse content or not. However, opportunistic reuse is also the
least efficient because it requires that authors know a reusable element
exists and what it is called, then find the element and reuse it in their information
product. In addition, if authors are not aware that an element already exists,
they may recreate it causing multiple elements to proliferate in your content
management system. This also makes it difficult to know which of the multiple
elements is the definitive one.
Alternatively, systematic reuse is automatic reuse. Once specific content
has been identified as reusable in a specific location, it is automatically
inserted (auto-populated) into the appropriate locations. Authors do not have
to determine if the reusable content exists or search for, retrieve it, and
insert it into the appropriate places. Systematic reuse ensures that content
is automatically reused where necessary, thus reducing the burden on authors.
When designing your reuse architecture, considerable analysis of information
products is required to decide which elements are systematically reusable
Once you've decided which elements are systematically reusable, you
create content and structure reuse maps as part of your reuse architecture.
The content reuse maps identify where content can and should be reused and
if it should be reused identically or can be used derivatively (with change).
Content reuse maps are used by your content management system to programmatically
(automatically) ensure that content is reused. In addition to identifying
content reuse, you need to identify structural reuse as part of your reuse
architecture. Structural reuse identifies where common structures are reused.
For example, you might have a product description element in a brochure, but
you would also have a product description element on the web. Even though
those product description elements may be structurally the same, they may
contain different content. Structure reuse maps are used by DTD/template developers
in creating consistent structures for authors to follow.
The repository architecture defines how you will structure your repository.
For example you may have “building block” directories that include
content that is frequently reused (e.g., glossary, procedures, product descriptions)
and the remainder of your content stored in information product directories
(e.g., all brochures) that are further organized by product. Or you may decide
to organize your content by product with each of the information products
as a subset of the product. You need to determine what is the most effective
repository structure for your needs. Note, however, that the identified structure
is not a physical file structure. Content is stored in the database, not in
directories. The repository structure enables your authors to easily find
An area of information architecture that is frequently overlooked is
that of reuse management. If authors opportunistically reuse content and create
derivatives of the content, it quickly becomes difficult to identify which
element is the definitive one. Your content management system will end up
looking like your current file structure and you will have no clear idea of
what is source content, where content is reused, and if there are multiple
versions of the same piece of content. Reuse management means creating rules
to manage your reusable content. The reuse rules are formalized in your content
management system through workflow and in your system configuration.
Content control, as part of your information architecture, identifies
how your content should be managed. You need to determine how content should
be controlled through its life cycle and what security should be applied to
it. Content control is tightly integrated with your reuse management strategy
and business practices and like reuse management, it is formalized in workflow.
Bob Boiko (www.metatorial.com), Director of the University of Washington's
iSchool Content management system evaluation lab, content management expert,
and best-selling author of Content Management Bible on
content management , sums up the discussion of information architecture
and content management very well:
Content management is the dynamic organization of information
architecture, business management, software and network engineering, content
creation, and publications development. If you don't master each of these
areas, CM will fail.
If you don't get them to integrate, CM will fail. Information architecture
is the structuring of information for effective management and presentation.
While the discipline has focused more to date on the presentation side of
structure, it is now turning solidly toward management. As it does, the tight
connection between content management and information architecture is becoming
crystal clear. Information architects, like the building architects before
them, create structures. They lay the foundations under and the frames around
information. Content managers gather and dynamically deliver masses of information.
Without a solid information structure at the core, a CMS effort can't get
off the ground. At best, it will be hugely inefficient and at worst it will
crumble under its own weight. Information architects have the skills to structure
a content domain so that information can flow in a reasoned and efficient
way. It flows in according to well understood rules of relevance, segmentation
and tagging, and it flows out according to well understood rules of audience
interest and use.
So, CM needs IA. But IA needs CM as well. CM provides a wider context
for IA. It makes IA not just about the best page, or even the best site, but
rather about the best system behind all the pages, sites and myriad other
outlets for information. CM centralizes IA in the organization. It upstreams
IA toward the center of the organization's information systems infrastructure.
It integrates IA with business management, software and network engineering,
content creation, and it's old friend publications development toward a new
concept of what it means to be an organization in the information age. ”
- Rosenfeld, Louis and Peter Morville. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites. 2002. O'Reilly amp; Associates, 2nd Edition.
- Rosenfeld, L. Email interview, February 2004.
- Boiko, Bob. Content Management Bible. 2001. John Wiley & Sons.
- Boiko, B. Email interview, February 2004.