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GatherContent interview: Deane Barker

GatherContent interview: Deane Barker

3 minute read

GatherContent interview: Deane Barker

3 minute read

Deane Barker

Senior Director of Content Management Strategy at Episerver

GatherContent interview: Deane Barker

Robert Mills

Head of Content, GatherContent
Deane Barker is a CMS and content expert. His experience speaks for itself. Deane has been working in content management for 25 years, as a system integrator, commentator, speaker, consultant and now platform vendor. He is the author of four books on content management, including "Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices," published by O'Reilly Media. He is currently the Senior Director for Content Management Strategy at Episerver. I spoke to Deane about content management, some of his books, content operations and more.

You wrote a definition of content operations a few years ago, and we at GatherContent reference it a lot. Do you think this definition is still aligned with your thoughts on ContentOps today?

Absolutely. Content operations is the day-to-day work that we need to get done. It’s the “management” of “content management.” It’s the entire reason we design software and do implementations.

I think it’s especially important for vendors and integrators to think about content operations. We tend to get abstracted from it because we think about software and services. What we need to remember is there are people working in the systems we build, day-in and day-out.

I don’t think my definition of it has changed. I doubt it ever will, honestly.

If an organisation is looking to improve/mature their own content operations, what's a sensible starting point?

Training. They need to understand how to use the system, and this happens on one of two levels. Primarily, they need to understand the website that was built for them. They need to know this to do their job.

They also need to know how their CMS works at the defaults. I think of this as the “margins.” They need “space in the margins” to doodle and dream and play. If they only know how to do the existing things they do every day, then they have no wiggle room to think of new things they could do, or new ways they could apply the software.

Always make sure you have enough knowledge – the continuing, ongoing, up-to-date knowledge – of things you don’t do every day. A lot of neat innovations started with someone writing a note in the margin.

In your role as Senior Director of Content Management Strategy at Episerver, what's your current focus/currently keeping you busy?

Headless is big, of course. We’re branching out in some new directions there, but that’s no surprise since I’ve been low-key obsessed with it for the last couple years.

And I’m interested in introducing some paradigms of content distribution. That’s been my other thing – presenting a seamless experience from multiple content providers. I love the idea of Episerver as an “umbrella” distribution platform that orchestrates multiple content providers to provide a unified experience.

That kind of stuff wakes me up at night, just thinking about it.

You've co-authored The Web Project Guide with Corey Vilhaeur. I'm interested in the process of releasing chapters in stages, as you have been. What have been some pros and cons to that way of publishing a book?

We were just talking about this the other day.

Here’s the problem –

We released the chapters for The Web Project Guide two at a time. So far, eleven batches of them. The problem is that the book is currently a bit of a patchwork. We don’t have the level of integration or callbacks that we should. In the earlier chapters, we weren’t thinking far enough ahead to say, “We’ll talk about this later…” and at the end, we’re so far removed from the earlier chapters, that we don’t say, “We discussed this back in…”

The last two chapters are a couple of weeks away, and then Corey and I need to sit down and do a big “integrative edit” where we take 12 batches of chapters and integrate them.

After that, we’ll be close to a formal published release, I think. We think it’s a great piece of work so far. I think it’s the best writing Corey and I have done, and it’s been nice to really dig in without worrying about length (…yet – that day is coming).

You've also recently released another book, Things You Should Know: 25 lessons I've learned about selecting content technology and services. As a taster, what are one of the lessons learned?

Ecosystems matter. You’re not just buying a CMS, you’re buying into a community. Before you buy, look for documentation, look for discussion, and look for a partner network. The ecosystem is the soft place to land when things go wrong. As I talk about in the book, I’ve seen people get stranded with a CMS that no one knows how to use, and for which there isn’t much of a community. These stories don’t end well

You've clearly been writing a lot recently. Do you have a writing tip for our readers who may be struggling to get motivated, to finish a piece of writing, or generally facing some form of writer's block?

Ha! I hesitate to say this, but the best advice someone gave me about writing is this:

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

(Thank goodness my late mother will never read that.)

This advice works on two levels –

First, it’s not bad practical advice. A couple times, when I was stuck, I would open a Stella and found that the words would come a lot easier. But the other level is that we censor ourselves when we write. Sometimes we get stuck because we’re thinking too much about it. After a couple beers, we’re less self-conscious and we stop choking on the words.

I’m not literally saying to get drunk before you write. But try to care less, like you do at after a couple beers at the pub on a Friday night. Just get the words out and clean them up later.

(Incidentally, I did an entire podcast episode about the writing of my book, and it remains the best conversation I’ve ever had about writing. If you’re interested in writing a book, or just writing in general, many people have told me how much it helped them.)

You've started teaching an Advanced CMS course at FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Sciences Graz. Does the pace of change in the industry make it challenging teaching on this topic or are the fundamentals very much relevant for the long term?

I’ve taught an introduction class for six years, and it’s all about the fundamentals. In fact, what I call the
“four pillars of content management” will never really change:

  1. Content modeling
  2. Content aggregation
  3. Editorial workflow
  4. Output management

Those are transcendent and eternal. Those were problems in Biblical times, and they’ll be problems after we live on Mars.

I just started teaching the advanced course this year, which is a little more timely. It was my first year teaching it, so I haven’t had to modify it yet, but we’re staying pretty general. We talk about things like search, page composition, and digital asset management. Some layers of those disciplines change over time, but there are fundamentals there that are timeless.

Bonus question: How important is content?

More than breathing. Less than coffee.

You wrote a definition of content operations a few years ago, and we at GatherContent reference it a lot. Do you think this definition is still aligned with your thoughts on ContentOps today?

Absolutely. Content operations is the day-to-day work that we need to get done. It’s the “management” of “content management.” It’s the entire reason we design software and do implementations.

I think it’s especially important for vendors and integrators to think about content operations. We tend to get abstracted from it because we think about software and services. What we need to remember is there are people working in the systems we build, day-in and day-out.

I don’t think my definition of it has changed. I doubt it ever will, honestly.

If an organisation is looking to improve/mature their own content operations, what's a sensible starting point?

Training. They need to understand how to use the system, and this happens on one of two levels. Primarily, they need to understand the website that was built for them. They need to know this to do their job.

They also need to know how their CMS works at the defaults. I think of this as the “margins.” They need “space in the margins” to doodle and dream and play. If they only know how to do the existing things they do every day, then they have no wiggle room to think of new things they could do, or new ways they could apply the software.

Always make sure you have enough knowledge – the continuing, ongoing, up-to-date knowledge – of things you don’t do every day. A lot of neat innovations started with someone writing a note in the margin.

In your role as Senior Director of Content Management Strategy at Episerver, what's your current focus/currently keeping you busy?

Headless is big, of course. We’re branching out in some new directions there, but that’s no surprise since I’ve been low-key obsessed with it for the last couple years.

And I’m interested in introducing some paradigms of content distribution. That’s been my other thing – presenting a seamless experience from multiple content providers. I love the idea of Episerver as an “umbrella” distribution platform that orchestrates multiple content providers to provide a unified experience.

That kind of stuff wakes me up at night, just thinking about it.

You've co-authored The Web Project Guide with Corey Vilhaeur. I'm interested in the process of releasing chapters in stages, as you have been. What have been some pros and cons to that way of publishing a book?

We were just talking about this the other day.

Here’s the problem –

We released the chapters for The Web Project Guide two at a time. So far, eleven batches of them. The problem is that the book is currently a bit of a patchwork. We don’t have the level of integration or callbacks that we should. In the earlier chapters, we weren’t thinking far enough ahead to say, “We’ll talk about this later…” and at the end, we’re so far removed from the earlier chapters, that we don’t say, “We discussed this back in…”

The last two chapters are a couple of weeks away, and then Corey and I need to sit down and do a big “integrative edit” where we take 12 batches of chapters and integrate them.

After that, we’ll be close to a formal published release, I think. We think it’s a great piece of work so far. I think it’s the best writing Corey and I have done, and it’s been nice to really dig in without worrying about length (…yet – that day is coming).

You've also recently released another book, Things You Should Know: 25 lessons I've learned about selecting content technology and services. As a taster, what are one of the lessons learned?

Ecosystems matter. You’re not just buying a CMS, you’re buying into a community. Before you buy, look for documentation, look for discussion, and look for a partner network. The ecosystem is the soft place to land when things go wrong. As I talk about in the book, I’ve seen people get stranded with a CMS that no one knows how to use, and for which there isn’t much of a community. These stories don’t end well

You've clearly been writing a lot recently. Do you have a writing tip for our readers who may be struggling to get motivated, to finish a piece of writing, or generally facing some form of writer's block?

Ha! I hesitate to say this, but the best advice someone gave me about writing is this:

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

(Thank goodness my late mother will never read that.)

This advice works on two levels –

First, it’s not bad practical advice. A couple times, when I was stuck, I would open a Stella and found that the words would come a lot easier. But the other level is that we censor ourselves when we write. Sometimes we get stuck because we’re thinking too much about it. After a couple beers, we’re less self-conscious and we stop choking on the words.

I’m not literally saying to get drunk before you write. But try to care less, like you do at after a couple beers at the pub on a Friday night. Just get the words out and clean them up later.

(Incidentally, I did an entire podcast episode about the writing of my book, and it remains the best conversation I’ve ever had about writing. If you’re interested in writing a book, or just writing in general, many people have told me how much it helped them.)

You've started teaching an Advanced CMS course at FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Sciences Graz. Does the pace of change in the industry make it challenging teaching on this topic or are the fundamentals very much relevant for the long term?

I’ve taught an introduction class for six years, and it’s all about the fundamentals. In fact, what I call the
“four pillars of content management” will never really change:

  1. Content modeling
  2. Content aggregation
  3. Editorial workflow
  4. Output management

Those are transcendent and eternal. Those were problems in Biblical times, and they’ll be problems after we live on Mars.

I just started teaching the advanced course this year, which is a little more timely. It was my first year teaching it, so I haven’t had to modify it yet, but we’re staying pretty general. We talk about things like search, page composition, and digital asset management. Some layers of those disciplines change over time, but there are fundamentals there that are timeless.

Bonus question: How important is content?

More than breathing. Less than coffee.

Deane Barker

Senior Director of Content Management Strategy at Episerver

Deane Barker has been working in content management for 25 years, as a system integrator, commentator, speaker, consultant and now platform vendor. He is the author of four books on content management, including "Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices," published by O'Reilly Media. He is currently the Senior Director for Content Management Strategy at Episerver. He lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA.

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About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is responsible for managing all of the organisation's content output and for their content operations. Rob also works on audience research projects and strategic initiatives to ensure their content meets both business goals and user needs.

He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and has written for industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, UX Matters, UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and content operations at leading industry events or on podcasts.

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