Building a better vocabulary for content is a great starting point—after all, naming a problem is the first step to solving it. But separating out authoring from assembling poses both technical and organizational challenges.
Most of our existing CMSs are not particularly well-suited for the world in which we find ourselves.
Most organizations are not well-positioned for staffing the assembly side of the authoring-assembling divide.
Authoring inside a CMS is generally an awful experience. For some types of authoring, GatherContent (which I adore) fills that void. But it’s a tool that works best with highly-structured content—product descriptions or service offerings or the like. It lacks the flexibility needed for the kinds of longform, narrative products that think tanks and research organizations produce.
A CMS like Drupal is much better at assembly tasks (e.g., creating metadata or managing taxonomies). But more complex bits of assembly are difficult, as anyone who has ever worked with Views can attest. And you can forget using it to power a multichannel, modular content publishing system unless you’ve a whole team of good developers on hand.
In the think tank/research organization space, we (rightly) recognize the need for expertise in our authors. Those of us working in communications put a lot of thought into helping shift our authors into digital-first ways of working. But too often, we’re saddling that (legitimate) request with too much additional burden. Often, we expect those same authors to handle assembly (by, for example, asking authors to produce tags and categories) or we outsource the job to a web team that typically hires for technical skills, not for curation skills.
Assembling content—like curating a museum—requires a particular set of skills. Those skills aren’t the same as the ones required for writing content, nor are they the same as the ones required for writing good CSS or applying security updates.
Getting where we need to be requires tackling a bunch of interrelated questions:
How can we make our CMS a friendlier place for assembling content, not just for the web but for all our digital outputs?
What kinds of staffing do we need if we’re to divide authoring from assembling?
How do we govern a process that divides authoring from assembling?
We’re going to be tackling some of these questions at Soapbox in the coming year. If that sounds like a conversation you’d like to be part of, let me know in the comments.
It’s distributed. It’s rare that we find The One Definitive Article on something. We assemble a full picture of things by reading a bunch of different sources.
Of course, the fact that they are placed in no particular order doesn't entail that there is a lack of order. Arrangement still has a place. But that order lies in the arrangement of links. It's writing as creation and curation. It's building links that communicate relationships more complex than before-and-after.