Thoughts on the latest Twitter abuse piece

The Buzzfeed piece about Twitter abuse that makes the rounds since last Thursday proves to be a very interesting read. The way the abuse problem has been left to fester is infuriating. So much so that while reading I took notes. Notes laced with profanity. Here are a few thoughts.

Free speech radicalism is an easy extremist tenet to hold in many ways. First, it is often defended by people who don’t know abuse at all. They, therefore, don’t have to make any sacrifices for this radical belief of theirs. Second, it is — in theory — a steadfast policy that protects the company from liabilities. They can then say that they’re a utility and don’t make content decisions.

It stems, however, from a weird idea of free speech. Free speech is great. I wouldn’t want the government to silence me but I want to be held accountable for the shit I say. Free speech radicals seem to have another definition. To many of them, free speech as being allowed to say whatever you want, often without suffering any consequences. Allowing people to be protected from the consequences of shitty actions and shitty words is not a moral imperative. It creates a toxic environment where a few assholes can police the speech of all the others by unleashing barrages of abuse and threats. It doesn’t help foster more productive debates. Just the opposite.

Yet, once people accept something needs to be done, the search for the ‘perfect solution’ begins… This search lead to paralysis as Vivian Schiller is reported as saying in the piece. Extremists always ask for a perfect solution before letting go of their own problematic one. Always seeking to swap an extremism for another. But that’s not how the social space works, that’s not how humans function and communicate. There needs to be moderation in every sense of the word. We need kind and intelligent judgment calls and concessions. There needs to be consistency obviously but no solution will ever be perfect.

Jack Dorsey is quoted as saying “No employee should ever be in the position of having to decide, subjectively, what qualifies as free speech and what does not”. This makes me doubtful that this problem will ever be mitigated. It will always come down to human judgment whether the judgment of a moderator or the judgment of an engineer designing an algorithm. Stress cases will always arise where the meaning of free speech will need to be discussed. Putting the burden completely on the users to moderate is again non-committal safe in the sense that investors might not punish the company and it won’t unleash lawsuits but it won’t fix the problem that for a vast majority of users, being on Twitter is very tiring work, an energy drain and often even a safety concern.

Large organizations all have things they’d rather not discuss (*cough* web governance *cough*), power struggles they’d rather not address, ambiguities that are preserved even if they hurt the business because it is believed that somehow these discussions would never end and distract everyone. I firmly believe leaders should encourage these discussions nonetheless. Especially in this case.


Suicide Squad: Hammered into shape with Harley’s mallet

First of all, be warned. This little essay is riddled with SPOILERS. There are a lot of SPOILERS here. Every second word is a SPOILER. I’ll assume you saw the movie. You’ve been warned about SPOILERS. Don’t come crying to me about SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS. So many.

We’ve lost the SPOILER-averse? Good.

“Suicide Squad” is not as good as it could’ve been. They hammered elements into the scenario with Harley Quinn’s mallet. The movie struggles to contain all that has been thrown into it. This doesn’t work.

Suffering from indecision

The movie suffers from a problem that affects most comics-based movies. It has trouble balancing fan service and broader appeal. In its bid to appeal to everyone and explain everything, its exposition is long and strange and forced. Members of the squad are introduced one by one as Weller speaks with high ranking national security officials in the restaurant. That structure which works in heist movies such as Ocean’s Eleven feels wrong and unnatural here.

Having secondary characters come to the fore and important characters (like Batman) recede in the background is an ambitious project. To pull it off, character development should at least work well and fast. It doesn’t. Character development in “Suicide Squad” has too many moving parts. They take up all the space to the detriment of the story. Focusing on fewer elements would have stoked the ire of some fans but would have made things easier to order into a more functional cinematic narrative machine.

Focusing on characters and letting the audience spend some time with them could help us forgive problems with the story. Characters enter from the left and the right at odd times. Slipknot, for example, appears without any back story or forewarning only to be killed moments later. His arc exists solely to ensure that audiences understand nanobombs injected in all their necks are real and stakes are high. Katana appears seemingly out of nowhere too. So does the Enchantress’ brother/slave. These moves seem gauche and took me out of the flow.

Harley, Deadshot and ALL the others

Harley and Deadshot are introduced rather well — most probably because there might be romance in the air next. Their skills and motivations are covered early and they are therefore better established from the beginning. These characters work very well and the actors who portray them have stuff to work with. They do so very well. This creates expectations for other members of the squad which aren’t met.

The Joker is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole movie for me. The scene where the Joker offers Harley was out of character and didn’t do a thing to establish the nature of their relationship. However, the “Would you die/live for me?” was powerful and purposeful. Were it introduced sooner, it may have worked better.

Killer Croc is presented by Waller as damaged by the way he is treated because of his appearance. It is almost left at that. We’re not invited to try and understand his motives. He is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, shrouded in character dysfunction. He is not one of the most well-known and oft adapted characters in the DC universe. The audience is right in expecting something more, especially since his unique ability to swim is very important to the dénouement. He deserved a better treatment.

For most other characters, seemingly random tidbits of backstory and dialogue are presented. They don’t form a coherent picture. It doesn’t smell like writers have the characters straightened out either. This problem is lurking throughout the DC universe and isn’t exclusive to “Suicide Squad”. As long as they are secondary characters, one can keep them a little blurred in a background of (sic) moral bankruptcy. As soon as you bring them to the fore, strategies to distance the “villains” from the “good” guys should be forbidden. Motives should be made clear. Moral complexity should be embraced. It seems the movie doesn’t bring them fully into focus and neither does it keep them in the background which makes for a blurry ensemble.

As antagonists go, the Enchantress and her barely one-dimensional brother are very sad. “She does magic, impressive shit — naked and covered in wet ashes” is the full depth of the character, it seems. Her brother is hastily introduced because the story reaches a stalemate in her confrontation with Weller. Neither him nor her have clear motives. The Enchantress’s plan materialises out of nowhere. Losing the brother, keeping the Enchantress under Weller’s thumb and making Weller the antagonist would have opened so many great doors.

A late glimpse of potential in the bar scene

Lots of the things I adore about the DC universe were definitely there.

  • Individuality and conformity in tension,
  • the impossibility (real or imagined) to adhere to “normal”,
  • the problematic relationship between mental health and criminality,
  • the age-old Gothamite question of contagious antisocial behavior

These are all themes and problems in the DC universe that I love. They are explored in “Gotham” way better and more thoroughly than here, obviously. In many ways, “Suicide Squad” could have been an even better venue to explore them because Harley and Mr. J. are present and everyone is farther along in their careers.

The bar scene is a pivotal moment. It made the characters’ struggles real and relatable. Three quarters into the movie is pretty late to establish the motivations and struggles of main characters. Elements about them gel and aggregate only at that point. If you’re gonna have a thin story, the movie could’ve been laced with more of a reflection around evil, what makes them bad, can they repent and reform, is a punishing prison system the best way. The elements are all there but they’re not developped to their fullest because of time constraints and completely out of order.

Amanda Weller does some terrible fucking things in the name of law, order and patriotism because she fears superhumans. Some prison guards are clearly sadists, what about that? What makes law and order so great if the “good” guys kill and torture too? What makes Batman different to Weller if he has offensive weapons? Deadshot and Flag have a conversation in the helicopter about their differences. Flag — whose name is funny in that context — gets out of the argument by stating that he’s a soldier. He has other reasons to be there but the argument just ends never to be referenced again. Loose ends like this are everywhere. It’s sad.

It would have been relevant to explore these issues more. As a culture, we desperately need more reflection around these topics as we grapple with gun violence, police brutality and various extremisms.

Joyeux Anniversaire, Creative Mornings Geneva!

Le chapitre genevois de Creative Mornings fête son quatrième anniversaire ce mois-ci. Quatre ans déjà que cette équipe de personnes adorables propose des petits-déjeuners, présentations et rencontres mensuelles à Genève. Tout ceci a commencé dans la ville de New-York en 2008 à l’initiative de Tina Roth Eisenberg (aussi connue sous le nom de Swissmiss). Elle a décidé d’organiser des conférences matinales accessibles et gratuites dans son quartier. Son idée a rapidement essaimé. Aujourd’hui, 144 villes à travers le monde ont des chapitres locaux organisés par des bénévoles. Genève a la chance d’en faire partie.

J’ai été un lecteur de Swissmiss et un spectateur des vidéos de ses conférences avant le début du chapitre genevois. Naturellement, lorsque le chapitre genevois a commencé, j’étais très heureux. Cela coïncidait avec ma sortie de l’Université. J’avais bien besoin de rencontrer des jeunes professionnels de différents horizons et cette communauté m’a accueilli à bras grands ouverts. J’ai eu la chance de pouvoir participer à presque tous les petits déjeuners et rester fidèle à ces événements même après avoir trouvé mon emploi actuel. Les organisateurs sont vraiment supers. Toutes ces opportunités d’apprendre et de rencontrer des gens m’emplissent d’une immense gratitude.

Cet anniversaire est l’occasion idéale pour moi de proposer une courte sélection de quatre conférences qui m’ont marquées:

Je me réjouis beaucoup de continuer à aller tous les mois au Creative Mornings Geneva. Si vous n’êtes pas encore venus, j’espère que vous pourrez vous libérer pour venir la prochaine fois…

Merci encore aux organisateurs. Vous êtes géniaux!

Adieu ThinkUp


Hier soir, j’ai appris avec tristesse la fin annoncée de ThinkUp. Anil Dash, co-fondateur de cette entreprise avec Gina Trapani a expliqué les raisons de cette fermeture sur Medium.

ThinkUp permettait de recevoir des informations sur son utilisation des réseaux sociaux sous formes de petites capsules digestes comme “Evren a utilisé des points d’exclamation dans 133 tweets au cours du mois écoulé” plutôt que sous formes de graphiques difficiles à interpréter.

Malheureusement, ce genre de service repose entièrement sur les APIs des grands réseaux sociaux. Les APIs permettent de récupérer des données depuis les réseaux sociaux pour les traiter. Les grandes entreprises qui les gèrent, font régulièrement des changements dans ces APIs — parfois pour des raisons techniques et parfois pour décourager les développeurs de créer des clients alternatifs.

Au plus beau jour de ce service, on pouvait recevoir des observations pertinentes sur notre utilisation de Twitter, Facebook et Instagram. Facebook et Instagram ont récemment fait des changements importants et assez restrictifs à leurs APIs. Twitter se prépare à en faire aussi.

Comme l’explique Anil Dash dans son billet, ces modifications entraînent des surcoûts de développement imprévisibles. Le nombre d’abonnés n’étant pas assez important pour absorber ces surcoûts et les repreneurs potentiels étant inquiets de buter sur les mêmes problèmes, le service sera arrêté le 18 juillet prochain.

Cela me pousse à me demander si on peut compter sur les APIs des géants du web. On est, au moins, obligé d’admettre qu’il faut des poches profondes pour pouvoir suivre leurs évolutions parfois brusques. Cela rend, évidemment, difficile la survie de petits projets financés par l’abonnement et qui se refuse à afficher de la pub ou vendre les données aux annonceurs. Je me réjouis de voir les co-fondateurs écrire à ce propos.

Je tiens à profiter de cette occasion pour remercier encore une fois très chaleureusement Gina Trapani et Anil Dash pour avoir créé et maintenu ThinkUp. Merci infiniment. Et bonne chance pour leurs projets futurs.

Cette annonce de fermeture me fait prendre conscience, encore une fois, à quel point il est important de sauvegarder le web ouvert et indépendant. Les technologies standardisées et ouvertes permettent, seules, l’émergence de ces projets cools. Bloguer sur nos propres sites, avoir nos propres flux RSS, … est très important pour garder ces technologies et ces usages vivants.

Chercher l’utile: une mission de la stratégie de contenu

Hier soir, j’étais à une conférence de Geoffrey Dorne organisée par UX Romandie et intitulée “A la poursuite de l’utile”. Geoffrey Dorne s’y interrogeait sur l’utilité dans notre travail de designer

Il trouvait dommage qu’on aie tendance à faire du design pour les designers. Il nous a notamment enjoint à nous mettre au service de personnes qui en ont vraiment besoin en nous mettant dans le contexte de défis globaux que nous devons collectivement relever comme les conséquences du changement climatique, le développement et les droits humains.

En chemin, il arrivait à une conclusion très belle: nous trouvons notre utilité lorsque nous nous mettons au service du métier de l’autre.

Chercher l’utile dans le contenu

Cela m’a fait réfléchir à mon propre parcours et mes propres ambitions. Quand il a demandé qui était designer, je n’ai pas levé la main. J’aurais peut-être dû. Ne pas lever la main dans cette assemblée me permet de me démarquer (et de me faire remarquer) cependant. Une personne qui utilise les outils de la stratégie de contenu est aussi un designer puisque nous allions outils, méthode et empathie pour arriver à un résultat meilleur que la situation de départ. Les outils de la stratégie de contenu sont là pour s’assurer que les contenus répondent aux besoins des utilisateurs et, dans le même temps, aux objectifs d’affaire de nos propres clients. Une introduction à la stratégie de contenu plus détaillée composée par Kristina Halvorson dans “A List Apart” est disponible en français.

Sans le formuler ainsi, la présentation “A la poursuite de l’utile” appelait une certaine mise de côté de l’ego. En rappelant qu’il fallait se mettre au service du métier du client, cela appelle à mettre de côté son propre ego. C’est peut-être aussi la voie à suivre pour se prémunir de l’ego du client. dans le service à la clientèle, et le design en fait partie, il est primordial d’éviter les batailles d’ego avec le client puisqu’il finit, en général, par l’emporter et notre relation de confiance avec lui en pâti. Que cela soit au niveau personnel, inter-personnel ou organisationnel, l’ego semble être un frein à l’utile. L’ego des organisations est un frein à la création et au maintien de contenus utiles. Dans son billet, Gerry McGovern précise également que l’ego organisationnel ruine la confiance des gens dans les institutions. La lettre du CEO qu’il faut mettre en page d’accueil, les grandes photographies de cadres souriants et signant des documents, les buzzwords vides de signification pour les prospects et les clients… tout cela relève de l’ego de l’organisation, consomme des ressources qui pourraient être utilisées à des fins bien plus utiles.

Les limites de nos méthodologies

La production de contenu est un domaine de nos projets de design web et de communication qui manque souvent cruellement de méthode et d’organisation. Pourtant, comme Geoffrey Dorne nous l’a rappelé dans sa présentation, on risque de tomber dans le fétichisme méthodologique ou de se retrouver un peu paralysé par l’immense choix d’outils qui s’offre à nous. Quelques tableaux RACI, jeux de triage de carte, séance de collage de post-it, et quelques flowcharts peuvent souvent nous aider à organiser la création et le maintien des contenus. Cela devient un problème lorsque le résultat de ce travail se retrouve dans des rapports et des listes de recommandations. Beaucoup de praticiens le reconnaissent, les rapports sont rangés dans des tiroirs et ne contribuent que très peu à faire changer les choses.

Cette prise de conscience est une évolution bienvenue que j’ai commencé à remarquer à Confab Europe 2014. Là-bas, les discussions méthodologiques sont passées de l’effort solitaire d’analyse à des formes plus collectives d’implication des clients au travers d’ateliers. C’était flagrant dans la présentation de Sara Wachter-Boettcher et dans celle donnée par Ida Aalen et Audun Rundberg. En plus de donner une marche à suivre, on accompagne les humains qui composent les organisations pour lesquels nous travaillons afin qu’ils participent à trouver les solutions qu’ils devront appliquer.

Se mettre au service du métier des autres

Les designers de contenus travaillent pour les utilisateurs et pour l’organisation mais aussi pour les humains qui composent ces organisations. La plupart des personnes chargées de créer des contenus ne se sentent pas accompagnées. Elles se voient ainsi confiées de nouvelles responsabilités qui s’ajoutent à leur charge de travail existante sans forcément recevoir les outils nécessaires. L’écriture semble aller de soi à ceux qui distribuent le travail et cela ajoute souvent du stress inutile.

Et quand on se sent frustré de ne pas pouvoir apporter de clarifications et de changements au niveau stratégique, ou qu’on se sente frustré par l’ego organisationnel, le souci d’aider les autres à faire leur métier et créer des contenus utiles est quelque chose auquel on peut se raccrocher. C’est utile. Et c’est un premier pas dans la bonne direction.

The headache of staff profile pages

Team member profiles or biographies can be found on many organisation’s sites. For most of them, employees are the best resource and, also, the best ambassadors. A college, for example, must have visible teaching staff members to attract students and funders as well.

Worth it?

There are, obviously, exceptions. A few companies like Brain Traffic or Mule Design (who instead put forth their writing) have dispensed with this section of their site entirely. Maybe their communications strategy focuses on their methods and brand rather than on the specific people working there. Maybe they realise what a mess biographies can become. Maybe both. It always pays to ask if a section of your website is worth having and maintaining.

Let’s say you decide it is worth the investment. Keep in mind that all content is political. Any discussions about content can surface power struggles in the organisation. Managing biographies even more so because the self-representation needs of the employees will clash with the organisation’s agenda.

Lots of organisations just give up on having difficult conversations and they’ll leave the content up to the person being profiled.

The mess

If employees end up being responsible for their own profile pages, messes can be very costly. Quite often, in huge organisations encouraging collaboration and transdisciplinarity, people will have many profiles across different departments and teams.

Every change has to be made multiple times — most probably through people who have direct access to the CMS. Often, they’re different people in each department. This operation therefore has to be repeated multiple times. That is a horrible waste of everyone’s time and focus. It creates a lot of frustration too. People put it off for as long as possible and, in the meantime, profiles get out-of-date and out of sync with their other ones.

Sorting it

The whole organisation can benefit from having standards around voice and tone, length and even which topics are discussed and which aren’t in these biographical sections. For example, few people always insist on giving the number of their children on their profiles.

Can employees represent themselves with complete freedom on their employers’ website? Do employees get to decide which photo they want on their profiles without any guidelines?

It pays to have these conversations and put standards in place especially if the employees are represented as ambassadors for the business and their presence has to serve clear business goals. Having clarity and consistency in the biographical section of the website projects a coherent image of the team. It is achievable if you define a clear purpose for this section as well as communicate this purpose clearly to team members.


Notes sur la difficulté d’articuler des buts pour les projets de communication

Il est souvent très difficile de parvenir à l’articulation d’un objectif pour un projet comme un site web ou une campagne réseau sociaux. La communication dans ces médiums est encore trop souvent vue comme un travail d’emballage et de transport: un souci technique — de l’IT. Ainsi, la question des objectifs semble absurde. L’objectif est que le monde entier vienne lire nos news supers intéressantes sur notre site et nos profils de réseaux sociaux. On va emballer ces trucs et les envoyer par Internet à tout le monde. Cette façon de voir les choses est aisée. Elle permet de refiler le truc à envoyer au technicien et de ne plus s’en occuper.

Or, cela place les praticiens que nous sommes face à un problème. Pour pouvoir bien faire notre travail, il faut que nous comprenions: et le public visé, et les buts poursuivis. D’une part, il convient de définir un public ciblé car il est fort peu probable que nous ayons les moyens de nous assurer l’attention de “tout le monde”. D’autre part, même si nous l’avions, qu’en ferions-nous alors? Que dirions-nous si un stade tout entier nous écoutait fébrilement?

Souvent, nous recevons le conseil de demander le “pourquoi” des choses. Cependant, si nos interlocuteurs pensent effectivement que la communication est une affaire d’emballage et de transport, nos questions risquent d’être accueillies par l’incompréhension et l’agacement.

Il convient de demander des réponses candides. Souvent, nos interlocuteurs ont besoin d’être rassurés. Nous devons donc biaiser et trouver des stratégies pour poser nos questions. On assurera, par exemple, que le supérieur ne connaîtra pas les détails et que les propos ne seront pas rapportés tels quels et surtout pas attribués. Montrer qu’elles ne portent aucun jugement ni même une remise en question de la gestion du projet et de l’autorité du patron est parfois difficile. Aussi bien celui qui pose les questions que celui qui les accueillent devrait comprendre qu’elles permettent au designer, à l’architecte de l’information, au stratège de contenu… enfin au prestataire de service dans la communication de mieux comprendre et donc d’apporter plus de valeur et une réflexion plus aboutie.

One-person web teams are cheap not inexpensive

Single-person web teams might seem like a great bargain but they’re not. They tend to become stuck in a content uploader role which is bad both from an HR and day-to-day business perspective.

When discussions and collaboration happen in another realm, the one-person web team only gets e-mails with attachments or content copy-pasted for immediate release. No wonder that all the person can do is make the markup remotely OK and hit “Publish”. Ron Bronson captured the challenges of being a one-person web team very well in his recent slide deck.

As a content uploader, the only way you have of gaining respect and trust seems to react ever faster and put things up as soon as they land in the inbox. It becomes the new rule of the game. You may protest that with more forethought and planning, you’d be able to edit it and content would have more impact. By putting up the content just-in-time, you allow everyone to save face. By doing so, you also remove their incentive to listen when you propose to focus on better processes. All you get is shrugs and excuses.

Having the web team stuck in this reactive mode is bad for business because the website usually ends up sucking. Always being on alert with an e-mail client open; ready to drop what you’re doing to copy-paste stuff into the CMS eats into energy, time and attention. It prevents one-person web teams from growing and learning new skills that the organisation will ultimately need.

It is much better to allow enough time and resources for the web team to work with subject matter experts, pair write and/or edit the content. It takes a little more money and effort but, in the end, the website can only be better for it.

Event promoting tweets require forethought, time and a well staffed team

Many event organisers want high-level promotion to raise attendance. They often turn to social media to promote. The tweet below is densely packed with information about “Content Marketing World 2016”. It is designed to entice the @CMIContent account’s followers to register for the conference but also to encourage the featured speaker to promote their talk.

I see conferences use similar communication tactics but seldom as expertly or efficiently as Content Marketing World. This tweet is best-of-class and emulating it is out-of-reach for many conferences. Even though it is an image and a well-written tweet, getting all the information packed in that tweet that much in advance of the event is a real challenge.

Let’s list all the elements we see in the graphic top to bottom and left to right:

  • Conference’s name: Content Marketing World 2016
  • Subtitle used across several social media posts (here, to link them to a successful movie franchise).
  • “I’m speaking!” which denotes excitement at the idea and makes the image especially suited to be shared by speakers themselves.
  • Speaker photo: standardised and square for use on the website and in all other communication.
  • Short version of the speaker bio (which complements the long version that’s on the website).
  • Conference’s logo
  • Conference’s date
  • City in which the conference will take place
  • URL of their website
  • Conference’s hashtag

And in the tweet itself…

  • The speaker’s Twitter handle
  • The hashtag
  • A promotional code (again this entices the speaker to share the post)
  • A short link to the conference website.

Once you have all those elements, it’s rather simple to produce the images either manually in a graphics program or programmatically (if there are many many speakers). Even tweets can be generated programmatically and uploaded into a scheduling tool such as Hootsuite.

The challenge is in assembling all these elements well in advance. It takes forethought, time and a well staffed team. A venue must be secured. Speakers have to be selected and confirmed. Editors have to work with speakers to hone their long biographies, craft the two line biographies, obtain the right picture and the relevant social media handles. You can’t deploy those smart marketing tactics until you have good content to support them.

How to Inventory Your Content Warehouse

Remember when I said to treat your content like a product? Now is the time to take practical steps. Your website is like a warehouse: full of treasures. To bring those treasures into your shop window, you need to know what you have and where it’s stored.You have created lots of content as advised in this introduction to content marketing. Now, your site is bursting, with all the subjects you’ve been covering. If that hasn’t already happened, it will. Faster than you might think.

You should, therefore, take a content inventory. The good news is, you can stay at your desk. To inventory a real warehouse, you’d have to climb up and down ladders, lift boxes full of expensive things, and count. Content inventories are fun (in comparison, anyway). Believe me, I’ve done both. Many times.

The Benefits of Content Inventories

The pay-off is always huge. As Kristina Halvorson says, content inventories change lives. Once you have completed it…

  • you’ll see what content exists, how accurate it is, and how to make everything better
  • you’ll identify core messages and topics and see what content is lacking
  • you’ll find all the redundant, outdated or trivial content that you can merge or delete
  • you’ll have a place to check if content on a particular topic exists: you can see what can be re-used and stop creating duplicates
  • you’ll see clearly how to organize your existing content better to make sure people find it easily
  • you’ll be able promote your content on social channels such as Twitter and Facebook more effectively

…and you’ll find answers to specific questions about your content and your business that nobody could help you with before. All of that with an inventory!

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

Convinced? So, close the door to your office. Sit down. Promise yourself a reward. Here we go with a journey around your warehouse!

How to Get Started

You are going to create a spreadsheet listing all your site content. Instead of paraphrasing, I will refer you to Jeffrey Veen’s how-to about content inventories. Go read it, I’ll wait.

Done? OK. Doing it completely by hand: copying and pasting is, as Veen says, mind-numbing. However, as it forces you to look at every single page, it makes you thorough and will produce better insights.

But if you feel an irrepressible need to cheat, you can use PageTrawler. It’s in beta and will exchange an inventory of your first 50 pages for your e-mail address. It outputs CSV files (comma separated values) that you can then open with every major spreadsheet editor. I can’t wait to see it become a full product!

Easy tools such as PageTrawler will multiply soon. For the moment, though, we’re stuck with link checkers and sitemap generators which are difficult to bend to our purposes and don’t supply all the information we need.

Sitemap generators like Xenu Link Sleuth and others can follow links on your website and list the address of every page. But unless you know how to convert XML into CSV files and manipulate them, using these tools might prove more pain than they are worth. Settle for the repetitive task. Most of the time, you’ll be better off.

Remember that the more thoroughly you read and report all of your content in your inventory, the more you’ll be aware of inconsistencies in categorizing, tagging, naming conventions, tone and so forth. You will also find more opportunities for content re-use.

If you have a little energy left, you can also add a column or two about audience responses: report the number of retweets, comments and visitors each article gathered during a period of reference.

Once all pages are listed with all the basic information, treat yourself to that reward. You deserve it.

Analyse and Brainstorm

At this point, you’re either exhausted or boiling with great ideas for improvements. Probably both. Hence, it is a bad time to make hasty and inconsiderate decisions. Write down your great ideas and save them for later. We’re going to take a few more hours for analysis. Involve as many people as you can who have an influence on your content, brainstorm with them and create a document describing

  1. your objectives
  2. how the content is supposed to help you achieve them
  3. who should read/watch your content
  4. what these people need from content
  5. a description of your content (topics, form, length, tone)
  6. and how you’re creating content at the moment.

I would also suggest that you take a look at other publications serving the same audience and see how they are doing. Take copious notes. With all this information in hand, you can now see…

  • what themes would differentiate you from your competition most effectively
  • what topics to publish about next
  • which words to use to name things consistently across your site (for clarity and search engine optimization)
  • which changes to make to your workflow to achieve better results.

No Shortcuts, Just a Few Quick Wins

You’re probably thinking: “I don’t want to do all this”. You should do as much as you can, really. If you insist on instant actions, there are a few simple steps you can take to make your content better right now.

You can put the content that is beyond repair offline. The definition of “beyond repair” is up to you. Look at topics, accuracy, form, length, tone, voice and consistency. It is very hard to assess the quality of your own writing. When in doubt, request confirmation from a friend or a professional.

You can make the categories or tags better. Take a tour of other publications covering the same topics and record their categories. Note their strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of categories or tags you plan on creating for your publication. Now, test it on the inventory before making changes to your website.

Create a new column in your inventory for “new categories” or “new tags” and, for each piece of content, list the categories or tags it would belong to. Doing this on a portion of your content will make the potential problems with your new scheme apparent. Rinse and repeat until satisfied. Then, make your changes.

Once you have cashed in your quick wins, go back and complete the analysis phase described above. It will be invaluable when you start to create content again, I promise.

In the meantime,  tell us the pains and benefits your inventory has caused you in the comments. I would love to hear.

Photo credits: Old Wool Warehouse by Tim Green; stock clerk by Alfred T. Palmer for The Office of War Information. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

I wrote “How to Inventory Your Content Warehouse” on’s blog, it was originally published on May 23, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.