RIP Content Management

Session with Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal.

Going to be a good counterpoint to the last session, it seems.

Couple of problems all businesses face:

Webmasters don’t scale.

Your proprietary CMS is slow to innovate.

Your users are your content creators.

Trying to control content is daunting.

Choosing a closed-source vendor is risky, depending on the vendor. What happens when they go away?

So Buytaert recommends open source software [surprise!]. It allows you infinite control, and it’s cheaper. Another key advantage is the level of innovation that happens with open-source.

OMG. He’s showing a really hysterical slideshow of crazy ways that people demonstrate their love for Drupal. Naked bike riding is involved.

OK, so how does Drupal address your problems?

Redefines the role of the web developer. It’s now often more about assembly, instead of writing code from scratch every time you need to do something.

Also helps your website scale. Some large websites running Drupal:

CMS can be slow to innovate. Buytaert gives a funny example of AOL, which was negotiating with a commercial CMS vendor, and while talks dragged on, AOL developers built a site in Drupal and so they went with that.

Users provide your content. Drupal makes it easy to build communities. My question: I have found Drupal sites to be powerful but not always intuitive to your average user. I need to check out some more of the sites that Buytaert recommends. Perhaps it’s just the implementations I’ve seen?

Great question from audience: If we choose Drupal now, how do we know that the developers will be there to support us? Buytaert’s answer is OK, but doesn’t go beyond, we have to train more people.

Another question: How will you stay flexible with your install base growing so rapidly? Buytaert: We don’t maintain backwards compatibility. Yowza. He acknowledges this is a good thing and a bad thing.

Managing Your Content Management System

Alex Will and Henry Erskine Crum of Spoonfed Media. They run a web/mobile guide to live events in London.

This is a total geek-out topic. They’re going to discuss when and how to build your own content management system. As they and all of us will know, understanding content management systems with a high level of proficiency and confidence is a big part of mastering all of the digital content you have at your disposal. They publish 30,000 event listings a month and generate revenue from ads, sponsorships, and ticket sales. But a small team to manage all of that.

Will: Content exists in a lot of different forms and places. But today we’re talking about websites that have editorial content, not just user-generated content or aggregation.

W: You have to understand your production process before you can build your CMS. How do you collect data or create articles? How do you make the process of assigning tasks as efficiently as possible? How do you use the CMS to create task lists for each person? As a business owner, are you producing content as efficiently as possible? Do you need a review process? What about when you publish? Do you need SEO or to link in with social media sites?

W: UGC works incredibly well when you’re writing around venues — sites like Yelp. The problem with an event is that if you take the time to review it, then it’s gone [after the event is over]. So we needed an editorial voice.

EC: Why they chose to build a custom CMS:

Factors that didn’t matter:

  • Amount of data
  • Size of website
  • Complexity of idea

What did make them need custom CMS:

  • Data aggregation from multiple sources
  • Workflow management between editors
  • Reducing research time per event
  • Search engine optimization
  • Lead generation and contact management needs

A challenge they encountered: How to scrub the data you’re aggregating to eliminate duplicates and tasks.

Workflow management. How do you divide tasks, segment them, and prioritize them? What automated steps can you include? How do you reduce or eliminate time humans have to spend doing rote tasks?

W: Huge part of this is reducing research time. What they did: Give editors tools like Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, Google News inside the CMS. Spent a lot of time thinking about each step in the process and figuring out how to automate/improve/gain efficiency.

W: Added tool to aid editors in doing keyword research and suggest inlinking within the site.

EC: The Open Table model — allows company to generate leads and information about restaurants and patrons so they can use info to sell restaurants on providing reservations on their own websites through Open Table. Spoonfed leverages the event and venue knowledge they are collating to develop lead generation in a similar way. They create leads from data and use Highrise CRM to manage it.

Can also automatically alert members when they create content they may be interested in.

Future development planned: More work on prioritization of editors’ queues based on searches and other trend data.

Also more analytics work, reviewing what worked and determining how to leverage it in the CMS.

W: You have to continue to iterate your backend just like you do on the front of your website.

I found this to be a great panel. There was some negative chatter on the backchannel, but that seems mostly to have been from people who wanted to here a Drupal/Wordpress/enterprise product smackdown.

Context Is Always Critical

Got into an interesting back-channel discussion today in the South by Southwest session called “Beyond Algorithms: Search and the Semantic Web.”

I did write another post on the panel, so I won’t go into the details here, except to say that I found the backchannel more thought-provoking than the panel itself.

So when I got into the session, I realized I had left my power cord in the hotel room and I was running on reserve power. I sent a tweet to ask if anyone in the rather large ballroom had a Mac power cord I could borrow.

I quickly heard back from Tim Bentley, who was generous to share his power cord with me for the session. And so it was coincidental, certainly, when I noticed he’d come from Aardvark, a social search engine.

I think it was during the part of the panel where they were discussing how standard search engines don’t really know if they’ve answered your question, and Bentley tweeted to say this:

#beyondalgorithms panel is basically talking about how to do algorithmically what Aardvark is doing now socially

So a few minutes later, I started wondering about Bentley’s perspective on Wolfram|Alpha, which bills itself as a “computational knowledge engine” and promotes the fact that its information is curated by experts. I have a long-standing bias against people who purport to be “experts” — it’s a knee-jerk sort of reaction and I can acknowledge that.

On the panel, a tangential discussion cropped up about how much context matters in search. It was the sort of conversation that I was far more interested in than the topics they actually intended to discuss. So it got me thinking that it’s not expert curation or knowledge that I dispute — it’s so-called expert knowledge applied without regard to context.

There are so few questions in this world with a black and white answer. Once you go beyond 2+2=4, you need to know the context to answer. And then most expert opinion can sound downright asinine when it ignores context.

So that’s the kind of question I’d like to see explored deeply: How do we apply context to computer inputs [searches, using the computer, applications, whatever] in order to more accurately and efficiently reach solutions for users?

Beyond Algorithms: Search and the Semantic Web

Wow. There are a lot of speakers here, and they aren’t all listed in the program….and there’s no way I’ll get them all straight. I’ll see what I can do.

Gil Elbaz, founder/CEO of Factual. They simplify access to clean, reliable data for publishers. Structure and clean data.

Danny Sullivan, Searchengineland

Carla Thompson, Guidewire Group. Search and semantic analyst.

Dag Kittlaus, Siri

Barak Berkowitz, has been at Wolfram Alpha for 10 days.

Will Hunsinger, CEO of Evri and Twine

Nova Spivack, founder of Twine, now at LiveMatrix.

Barney Pell, Microsoft Bing team.

Haha, first real question is, what does semantics mean? We’re going to discuss the semantics of semantics.

Someone [Pell, I think] says, it’s about meaning, figuring out which words match with other words. Also about the abstractions that tie words together. It’s a middle layer that connects the underlying layer to the higher intent.

So Google and Bing are already semantic search engines? Yes.

Thompson says, no that doesn’t clear it up. You lost the consumer after the word abstraction. I think we should get rid of the term.

Pell: I think it’s not a consumer term. It’s a technology term.

Kittlaus says, I’ve been in the Valley less than 3 years and I’m amazed at how little creativity is there in the search field. People argue about who has the biggest database and not about how to solve user’s problems.

Panel is arguing about whether or not today’s search results are adequate or should be replaced with something yet-to-be-conceived. Total geek amusement is all you can say about this.

Good point: Panelist says we have a scalability issue. There’s so much accessible data today, that a solution that could handle a million pieces of data isn’t the best solution for a trillion pieces of data.

Right now, search is good at answering single question. When you need to handle a complex task, you may have to make several searches. Need to better understand the user to better handle complexity.

Spivack: OK are we all just debating Google’s next feature? Or is there room for others?

Pell contends that many search engines [albeit not Google and Bing] are already working together.

Some discussion about the importance/desirability of including social and context info in search results — no discussion of privacy. All about how much better it will make search results.

Spivack comments on WA using expert curation, instead of community curation. Would love to hear more discussion on that point.

Now discussion on how does the engine know if they’ve answered you. And point made that many searches are refined over time…you search for info on getting a mortgage, you ask different things over time, and two months later you buy a house. At what point was your question “answered”?

The backchannel on this panel is pretty negative. I think it’s because there are too many people on the panel. And perhaps could have used a little more planning.

The Right Way to Wireframe, Part 1

Now getting ready for a workshop session on wireframing, from a couple of guys I follow on Twitter: @zakiwarfel and @russu.

Love this. Starting off with the point that in UX design, we never actually see the work.

What’s better, wireframing or prototyping? This is a funny session but so far hard to take notes. We’ll see how it goes.

So the premise is that 4 designers wireframed a new site for, microlending platform for children’s health needs.

Russ Unger chose Balsamiq for his tool. But first he’s showing us his index-card-and-post-it-note work that was the first step. Then found he couldn’t make the site map in Balsamiq.

But he did build out the wireframes there. And he shows those and the final design crafted from them by @simplybrad.

OK so this is cool. They took photos of their sketching, but they also screencasted their computer work. That is is pretty cool.

Now we’re on to Todd Zaki Warfel. He starts off with about a zillion post-it notes and sorts them on the wall into themes. He uses personas, the number based on what the data tells them is necessary. Then they start sketching, to explore concepts.

[Me: Personas are so rarely done well. Often they lead you down a dead-end path, because they aren’t informed by real-world data, but instead by someone in the C-suite’s opinions. I’m just going to assume that with all the data Zaki Warfel collects, that he’s doing them right.]

Zaki Warfel does some internal pitch/critiquing, and then goes straight to gray-scale prototyping, then brings in a designer.

He claims not to wireframe, but instead to prototype. His handdrawn sketches sure look like wireframes to me, however. Generally uses HTML/CSS but for this presentation he used Fireworks.

Really interesting session….Part 2 happens at 12:30.

The Era of Crowdsourcing: Guiding Principles

OK, I’m trying out a new theory this morning. I am sitting waaaay up front. I’m typically your cynical, back-of-the-class type.

I’m in a conversation between Scott Belsky, founder of the Behance creative network, and Jeffrey Kalmikoff of Digg. None of the below are direct quotes, but most of them are close.

Kalmikoff: My love for business is about how it’s a way to take an idea from concept to reality.

K: Crowdsourcing is an umbrella term that broadly describes several ways of sourcing information.

Belsky: Misconception — Crowdsourcing equals access to free labor. It’s given crowdsourcing a dirty name.

There’s crowdsourcing of wisdom [like Wikipedia] and of labor [like Mechanical Turk].

There’s a difference between crowds and communities, especially if you’re depending on it for business purposes. You need sustainability.

With a crowd, there’s a common purpose, some sort of event, but interpersonal isolation.

K: Interpersonal isolation provides a comfort to many people. Many of us are uncomfortable when someone strikes up a conversation in the elevator.

B: With crowds, sourcing exists in sprints. There’s a start and an end — not sustainable. [That’s where you get into the event aspect of being a crowd.]

K: You have to keep up some level of participation to remain involved. High probably of fatigue.

Community is based on identify and cohesiveness from shared conditions. Sustainability exists inherently in the organic, adaptive nature of communities.

K: Businesses can be part of communities, but they don’t define communities. If Harley Davidson went out of business tomorrow, it’s unreasonable to think that all the communities related to Harley Davidson would cease to exist.

B: As a business, you don’t have a community. You are part of a community.

[Me: This is a key point.]

Risks Inherent in Crowdsourcing
* Discount sushi — Something that seemed like a good idea at the time. It filled a need. But it’s not a repeatable source.

* Football team vs. strip club — Imagine the pre-game locker room of a football game. Everyone’s getting amped up, with a common purpose. There’s an incentive for collaboration. OK so now we’re supposed to be imagining backstage at a strip club before the first performance. There’s no incentive to assist others — if you help someone else improve, you make less money yourself.

[Me: Well that’s an interesting metaphor, but the point is well taken about communities vs. crowds.]

* Careless engagement — People aren’t engaged enough. They don’t care. They’ll put out crap to say they’re participating. If careless participation doesn’t harm your personal reputation, it’s a real risk for the community and the business.

* Wasted neurons — At the end of an open call, people have spent a lot of time working on a project, and the vast majority of it isn’t used. You have to weigh your time against the potential rewards.

* No contextual reputation — If you’ve already got a great reputation in your field, the level playing field created by communities isn’t your friend. If you’re the new kid with great ideas, it is helpful.

Questions we should ask of any sourcing model
1. Can it foster community? Is there incentive for conversation, learning, engagement? Or is it transactional? Is there a culture of collaboration?

2. Does it tap collective wisdom?

3. Does it nurture participation? Does work benefit reputation? Are participants building relationships? Are resources valued or wasted? Are terms/facts clear to all?

Brian Solis

OK, first session….I’m here at the Hilton listening to Brian Solis. He’s talking about brand.

For the record, brand is one of those words I hate. Its overuse has killed what used to be a useful word IMHO.

His premise is that social media is changing the way we communicate and connect. I’m thinking I take issue with that. We still need human connections and relationships. Social media is another channel for creating and maintaining relationships. But does it CHANGE them?

[Side note: there’s actually another panel on that topic over in the convention center right now. But I’m not there.]

Here’s a point I definitely agree with: We don’t control our message once we release it into the public. And social media allows you [your company, whatever] to connect with your community in order to assess things.

Solis is making a similar point to one I just read in Rework [by 37Signals’ Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanssen]: Who owns social media? Not marketing, not PR….everyone in your organization does. [Rework says, everything you do is marketing. It’s not a department. It’s how you run your business.]

Solis shows a slide that makes my head hurt. It’s called the Conversation Workflow, and it’s showing how conversations are initiated and travel through an organization. You know, a customer says something. And PR or customer support notices, and then it goes to someone for a response and then tech or legal is involved and then someone says, hey we gotta run that by the COO — you get the picture.

OMG. Here’s a true statement fr a Solis slide: Attention is the currency in content commerce. That is a great statement.

Solis asks, Why are we having our interns represent our brand on Twitter? Do you have your interns call up Walt Mossberg [tech guru for the WSJ] to pitch a story? NO!

We have to provide value with social media, or it’s worthless. Make something happen.

Majority of social media users are women….except on Digg.

So now Solis has introduced Jeremiah Owyang [], Frank Eliason [], and Dennis Crowley from Foursquare.

Eliason telling a great story about how social media is a personal connection, even when you represent a brand.

Owyang: Social media doesn’t scale. You can’t respond fast enough to meet the demand from customers. New report on how you should use social media to connect your customers with existing customer service, how people are doing it right.

Foursquare is 1 year old yesterday, with approximately 540,000 users to date.

Dennis Crowley talks entirely too fast.

And he just used another expression I hate: The social graph.

Solis makes great point: Many companies are not fixing legacy customer service or the root problem, they’re just applying social media on top of a broken system.

Eliason agrees. Says Comcast CEO has a Twitter app on his desktop so he can hear the conversation, and says his own team has the power to work throughout the organization to promote change when they see a need for it.

Owyang says social media still important for B2B because relationships are still between people.

Solis tells about a customer who asked him to do social media research and he found very little about the company on Twitter, but thousands of things in Google Groups — people talking about their product, needing information. You’ve got to meet the people where they are.

Great question: Is it right to completely restructure your org to respond to social media, or do you simply add a little walled-off community management group?

Why I still go to SXSW

I’ve been to South by Southwest Interactive more than any other work-related conference. In fact, in the past few years, I’ve only missed it because of the arrival of my two youngest children just before and just after the dates of the conference.

Someone asked me the other day why I go. The reason is simple: It’s one of only two conferences I’ve ever been to where I’ve always learned something. And I’ve been in marketing a long time — so I’ve been to a lot of conferences.

The other great conference? GEL. If you depend on customers [who doesn’t?], you should be at GEL. I am sad to miss that this year, but our family schedule won’t allow it. Next year!