Who cares about content – a review of “The Content Pool”

Who cares about content? I do. Passionately. But then I’m a technical writer, so that’s only natural. However, more and more organisations are beginning to realise the value of their content, be it the words and images on their websites, their product documentation, online forums, or any other way in which they make their presence known. Content, especially online content, is their primary way of interacting with customers and potential customers.

I’ve just finished reading Alan Porter’s new book, The Content Pool: Leveraging Your Company’s Largest Hidden Asset, published by XML Press. It’s a great read, in Alan’s inimitable story-telling style. If you’re in any way involved in the world of business and its content, then this book will give you plenty of points to think about.

Content matters

The book’s theme is that content is a strategic business asset and should be treated as such. In fact, the final chapter makes the case for appointing a Chief Content Officer (CCO) so that content is managed at senior executive level.

Kudos to Alan for identifying this topic and running with it. It’s a topic that all organisations need to pay attention to. High-quality content, well managed, is especially of critical importance to commercial organisations that target a globally distributed customer base. Wise and smart content management is the way to make and save $$.

Great stories

Thoughout the book you will find stories drawn from Alan’s own experience, illustrating his points and making the book a joy to read. It’s like sitting down at the fireside with a friend, discussing your troubles and mulling over the possible solutions.

This is a great quotation: “I’m a writer. I take the truth and give it scope.” (From the film “A Knight’s Tale”, quoted on page 82.)

I loved chapter 11, “Answers are the Answer”, and its tale of the purple monkey (page 134). A senior technical writer at a certain organisation was convinced that no-one ever read the “Description and Operation” documents that he produced.  So he had taken to adding the words “purple monkey” in the middle of the documents, completely out of context and in the middle of a sentence. No-one ever complained.

New perspectives…

On page 36, Alan writes, “With all this talk of the future and new media, don’t forget about your legacy information and your older, or disconnected, audience. Paper is still the default for the vast majority of people in the world. It is still the best user interface and delivery mechanism ever created.”

Those are good words. They gave me a new perspective on paper.

Alan makes the point that we need to design content that will still be readable in a few years’ time. And that will also be available on that legacy format, paper. For that reason, we should develop content in a presentation-neutral format.

…leading to my own musings

This led me to thinking about longevity of content. How true is it that our content needs to stand the test of time? Some of it must, of course. But perhaps the vast majority is disposable, as is so much else we use. I guess that part of content management is the ability to recognise and delineate the content that needs to be in a format that will survive.

Focus on questions and considerations

In some sections of the book, I thought that perhaps there was plenty of attention paid to the problems an organisation faces concerning its content, but perhaps not enough information about the solutions. An example is chapter 4, which talks about the language we use in our content and the problems we may encounter if we get it wrong. Only one solution is proposed: the use of a controlled language, which I think may not suit all environments. Chapter 6, on collaboration, is also a bit light on the “how to” details. Chapter 13 is about choosing a technical solution: a tool or platform for content development and management. It has good information about the questions you need to consider, but no details about the technologies available and the relative capabilities of each.

On the other hand, the book makes you think. That’s what you want a book to do.

What about the picture on the cover?

Ellis Pratt has written a great review of The Content Pool over on the Cherryleaf Technical Author’s Blog. But I disagree with Ellis about the picture on the cover of the book. Douglas Potter has done an excellent job. The book is attractive and engaging, and the artwork reflects the informal style of the content.

What do you think? (Purple monkey.)

Highly recommended sections of the book

Chapter 9 has a useful section on the points to consider when choosing a new standard for your content and for the processes that surround its production. Pages 104-9 list the questions to ask, followed by the tasks to follow when pursuing your selection strategy.

Chapter 12 covers user-generated content. It’s a very useful introduction to this complex topic. Alan also touches on the question of integrating a platform that allows user contributions with a more structured authoring environment, as recommended in the earlier section on round tripping in chapter 10.

Summing it up

Sit back, grab a glass of something warm and comfortable, and settle in for a good read. By the end of the book you’ll have a much clearer understanding of what content is, why it’s so important to an organisation’s well being, and the points to consider when setting out to improve your content management strategies.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 24 March 2012, in Book reviews, technical writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. >This is a great quotation: “I’m a writer. I take the truth and give it scope.”

    To misquote Kierkegaard, facts are many, but the truth is one. There’s a great essay on this topic by PL Travers (called “The World of the Hero”), which is well worth a read.

    • Hallo Ellis

      Ah, that’s interesting. I took the original comment to be ironic in nature. “I’m a writer. I take the truth and give it scope.” In other words, my truth may be slightly broader than the facts would indicate. Of course, “facts” are by definition only the known facts, so the scope of truth may indeed be broader.

      Cool topic!

      Cheers, Sarah

  2. Very nice review Sarah! So convincing that I ordered the book!

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