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Joe Gollner
Manotick, Ontario, Canada
A rather quixotic adventurer in business, ideas, and trails.
Interests: literature, history, management, higher education, technology, philosophy, leadership, content technologies, cognitive computing
Recent Activity
Hi Vinish. Interesting observation. And exactly to the point. I like the comparison to children - as this strikes a chord (as a parent whose children have grown up to the point where they can now govern me - or at least provide cautionary words of wisdom when I go a little off track). Unpredictable is not exactly the same as "completely unpredictable". There are things that will be foreseeable and for which reasonable preparations can be made. As the usage scenarios grow more complex and less predictable, sometimes we find that the best things we can do is be yet more clear and precise about what we are providing - so that as people set about doing something weird at least they have a few points of reference that they can count on. This marries up with the hard work of thinking about, and articulating, in formalized and useful ways, the "aboutness" of what we are providing. It is hard because "aboutness" almost always entails some sense of the possible usage (function) of the thing so this brings us back to thinking about the other side - where people (users / partners / customers) are going to do "weird things". As a random memory, I once worked on a large, multi-national Naval project where we were trying to provide a digital onboard learning and reference library that would be stocked with video resources (and this is way long ago - way before such things were commonplace). The issue was to determine which videos merited production when we could not be sure about how and why they would be accessed. We actually found, to our surprise, that the resources that were most heavily used - to the point of being consulted continuously - were the videos about the underlying theories - down to the physics and mathematics behind everything - that explained why certain systems were designed the way they were. It turned out that no matter how weird the usage scenario was, or the how strange the maintenance circumstance was, people wanted to understand why things were the way they were - in large part because they were about to do something weird and they wanted to know how crazy their ideas were. This is a lesson that has never left me.
Toggle Commented Apr 20, 2019 on Looking for Answers at The Content Philosopher
Hi Larry. Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. An excellent question. I am thinking that an answer indeed lies in the future. There have been success stories where the vision has been realized within the specific context of a given organization - typically ones creating or sustaining large-scale equipment systems - but those techniques still await distillation into a fully repeatable method and system. No surprise, this is one of my skunk works projects - and it is a project being advanced in collaboration with others so I am routinely pulled back down to earth. The good news is that from all those stubbed toes and bumped foreheads we have accumulated the necessary lessons so this final step doesn't seem that big anymore. Joe
People have questions. Sometimes they find answers. More often than not they construct answers from what they find. More frequently still they construct provisional answers and muddle along. This has always been the case. But as with so many things,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2019 at The Content Philosopher
Prologue I have a bad habit of tackling unnecessarily big topics at inopportune times. After a year of near-complete silence, I will make a gesture in that direction once more. As this is a particularly bodacious topic, I suspect that... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2018 at The Content Philosopher
What better way to emerge from a year of distractions than to tackle an impossible topic. Even if this attempt was only tangentially successful, it would feel like being a phoenix emerging from the ashes. Hence my choice for a... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2017 at The Content Philosopher
Hi Vinish I have not yet had time to look at the Atomic Design in detail, but it definitely looks interesting / promising. I think that there is a concurrent line of thinking about finer granularity that applies to application and experience design just as I have been sketching out for "content". In fact, in my treatment of content objects - they all do need to come together. This actually takes us back to classical Configuration Management where a central tenet is that you manage functionality as your primary focus and allow different components or services get you what you need. This means that you cannot meaningfully manage content in isolation from how it will be delivered and used. Similarly the design of the experiences that will be enabled cannot be meaningfully completed or managed or realized in isolation of the content that will fill in its branches and leaves. I first tackled this line of thinking in a presentation I gave over 20 years ago! Sarah's observations are great and they echo my same experiences and observations from Stuttgart. The German marketplace, with the prominence of the machine industry and their evident interest in (and leadership of) Industry 4.0 being hard to miss. And I do think that the story I sketched out aligns perfectly with your points about "Content - Brick by Brick". Thanks for your comments and for the reference links. I will continue to explore Atomic Design...
Toggle Commented Jan 5, 2017 on Content 4.0 at The Content Philosopher
Each year, I select an idea and proceed to pummel it relentlessly in a series of presentations, posts, and tweets. Last year it was the idea of Integrated Content. In 2016, it was the idea of Content 4.0. This inquiry... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2016 at The Content Philosopher
This will be a short detour back in time. Back to a keynote address that I gave at Lavacon 2014 in ever-enjoyable Portland Oregon. That talk then leapt further back in time with case studies drawn from across a 20... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2016 at The Content Philosopher
In the post Integrated Content Management, we dug deeply into the integrated, and integrative, nature of content. One of the things we took away from this exposition is the recognition that the real power of content lies in the fact... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2016 at The Content Philosopher
Hi Vinish Better late than never...I just caught this comment. Thanks for your comment. You have zeroed right in on what I think is the hub of the matter - understanding content as "potential information", as what we prepare in order to perform good information transactions. And the kitchen and table analogy is one that personally love. See my keynote from Lavacon 2011 where I take this analogy to almost ludicrous extremes:
Toggle Commented May 5, 2016 on The Birth of Content at The Content Philosopher
Not too long ago, in early 2015, I asked the question "Would the real Content Management please stand up?" Going back several years earlier to 2009, I had posted a meditation on The Trials and Tribulations of Content Management. Between... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2016 at The Content Philosopher
Believe it or not, there was a time when we did not talk about content. At least not in the way we do today. To some ears this will sound decidedly odd. To others it might even sound outrageous. But... Continue reading
Posted Dec 12, 2015 at The Content Philosopher
Preface This post attempts to define intelligent content in a new and hopefully fresh way. While still compatible with previous efforts to define intelligent content, and to describe its utility, this attempt consciously adopts new language in the hope that... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2015 at The Content Philosopher
Hi Sarah I hear you on the sufficiency of the root concept of "content management". Elsewhere I have said that if we define "content" properly then all the hyphenated variations become unnecessary. So if we play the game well, "we" will win back the generic content management term. The challenge today is that when you utter the core phrase "content management" then each silo will automatically add a preferred hyphenated variation and hear nothing else. In truth, I use "content management" straight-up, Full Monty. And I am often quite obnoxious about it - interrupting people from this and that silo with "hold it, you are not really talking about the content are you?" from which puzzled looks and breathless incomprehension cascade into a dazzling symphony. All this brings me back to ICBMs. Joe
Hi Larry Yes, you are right that I could have spent some specific time on the chasm between technical content and marketing content. It is one that is worthy of its own treatment. And as luck would have it, I wrote about this very topic in TC World Magazine and that article has just come online - see Technical Content Marketing: Why content marketing and technical communication need each other ( And I think that there are several reasons why ICBMs shouldn't be pushed too far... Joe
One thing that you will often hear content strategists talking about is the need to break down organizational silos. Only then will content flow from where it is created to where it is needed. It would be more than a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2015 at The Content Philosopher
Somewhere between the winding down of Octoberfest and the opening of the Christmas Market, Munich plays host to a different type of event. In stark contrast to the more famous events, this one proceeds without much fanfare. In fact, only... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2014 at The Content Philosopher
Fail early and fail often. This could stand as the clarion call of agile methods. Don’t tell, show – is another version. A close relative of this one is “talk is cheap”. In my military training, one rather extreme edict... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2014 at The Content Philosopher
There is no shortage of material written on the nature of the book. The accelerating growth in eBooks seems to have excited even more discussion just as I remember the appearance of the Web did some twenty years ago. A... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2014 at The Content Philosopher
One more thing. In truth I suspect that there might not be too much difference between Rahel and I on the definition of content after all. I remember thinking that the first time I saw her present her definition. In my rubric, information is the meaningful organization of data, communicated in a specific context and with the purpose of informing others and thereby influencing their actions. This definitely picks up on the transactional dimension that I am forever emphasizing (a la Speech Acts). If we pull away the transaction part of this definition we would presumably be left with "content" which is potential information (aka what precedes the transaction or transactions). So another way to define content, in a way that is less obtuse (something I excel at, if you haven't noticed), would be to say that "content is the meaningful organization of data" which is not so different from "content is contextualized data". Not so different at all. And the transactional wrap-up in my definition of information does try to connect us to the world of the recipients who are "informed" by the receipt. All this to say, that even with my specialized placement of the locus of definition, there may not be a whole lot separating some of the objects that the different perspectives are zeroing in on. And yes, my diagram could be redrawn with content being the band between Data and Information. Definitely. But what then of my acronym? And how would I showcase my "skills" with Visio? You have to leave me something...
Thanks Brook and Rahel for contributing to the mix. And I will have to thank you both as well for sending me off on another "thought-circuit". It is to be expected that a term such as "content" which is so central to the professional lives, or product investments, of so many people, should be a bit of a work in progress. I salute anyone who ventures beyond "words and stuff". I also sympathize with those who hang back and say "that shark infested lagoon doesn't look like a lot of fun". The thought-circuit that I am now embarking on is how our different perspectives may in fact be reconciled or at least seen in a way where the differences in definition are fully understandable once the right lens is set. Some of my earlier efforts on the term "knowledge" were necessitated because, as a form of rough karma, I found myself in two communities (one made up of KM practitioners and the other made up of "hard scientists") and I needed to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable definitions of knowledge that were in use. Of course, I probably managed to satisfy neither camp. At root, one of the key issues to be tackled, or at least situated, is where to place the "locus of definition" (a point of reference for all subsequent coordinates). Underlying my entire project is the not so subtle conceit that it is better to center our definitions of knowledge, information, data and thus content outside the cognitive behaviour of any agent that may be on the receiving side of such external resources. This is a big shift for some and one that cannot be made by those, for different reasons, prefer to place the locus inside the cognitive bahaviour of agents (people or autonomous agents for my AI friends). I find that centering the locus of these definitions outside of cognition places them in the domain of communication and this in fact enriches the landscape because it permits other constructs and strategies to be leveraged in the effort to tackle the inner workings of cognitive agents. This way the complexities on both side, and there are many, as well as their interactions, can be excavated and scrutinized. In working with Max Boisot's information space, for example, I found it better to make a sharp distinction between perception and representation, with the latter being associated with "data". I tend to argue that once we place the locus of definition outside of the agent's cognition and decision, then it becomes possible to genuinely talk about managing knowledge, information or content. I will confess that I saw this as a worthwhile step. So with that disclosure out in the open, you can see how indeed my rubric becomes inapplicable if we place part, or all, of it inside the cognitive behaviour of an agent. Content as a temporal experience would do this. Information defined by its receipt as learning or knowledge by its display in action would do this as well. Now in wrestling with terminology, the goal is not really about winning. It's about exploring. And you have both raised points that I need to think a lot more about. Stressing that content is an experience, and both for the recipient and the creator (and stressing both of these is frequently not done and this is a problem), does resurface things within my rubric. For example, my definitional approach, and in many ways the entire "management project" applied to content, runs the risk of making things "cold". One of the challenges on content management projects is to avoid severing the vital link between creators and users. (Somewhere on my blog I follow Jack Kerouac into this topic There is also remembering how important formatting really is - again something lost in many CMS projects where people get it into their heads that the goal is to abstract content away from format with the unintended consequence that all renditions subsequently underwhelm. The reason we abstract content from format (or perhaps some would prefer to say, structure from format) is so that we can deliver better formatted content not worse. With all that said and done, there is more to be explored here - which was the real message in my post. I am thrilled that you have taken up that thread and sent me off in new directions. I would submit though that the larger point I have raised here about the placement of the locus of definition does a lot to explain, if not resolve, our differences. I would also submit that the model that I have sketched out can be used to accommodate and explain the specific details you have identified as needing sound handling - whether they be eCommerce data or content experiences.
A question that comes up from time to time, and indeed one I pose to myself quite regularly, is how does the investment in industry event participation pay off. The first answer is usually that it is a way to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2014 at The Content Philosopher
Content Engineering and Content Strategy Short Essay posted to the Intelligent Content Conference 2014 site. Content Engineering and Content Strategy share one very important aspect: both depend upon a direct line-of-sight onto the business goals set for an organization. They both approach the question of how content, and the attendant content processes, can be leveraged for maximum benefit. And as the respective names suggest, they approach the question from two different angles. Content Strategy focuses on what content an organization should create and why. Considerations of what content and why rightly become a quest to understand the world of the stakeholders, with this including management and customers, and what it is they need to be able to do with that content. From the other side, that of technology and process, Content Engineering focuses on the how. Considerations of how content will be created, delivered and used also introduce requirements for the content itself and how it will be structured and profiled so that it can support the full range of uses to which it will be put. The two areas of practice converge, then, on the content itself. They are, in a manner of speaking, two sides of the same coin. So this raises a question. How useful will a content strategy be, or how sustainable, if it is not realized through a working solution that reflects the best practices in content engineering? The stark answer to that question is “not very.” What happens to a content strategy that bristles with great ideas about content driving new levels of customer engagement and referral, and that may even spark measurable spikes in product sales, but that depends on throngs of content professionals and small armies of application developers, all toiling long and hard to keep it going? It collapses and usually quite quickly. And this point will be driven home the first time the sponsoring organization needs to improve the bottom-line and the blade of cost-cutting sweeps through. The point of all this is that Content Strategy does not subsume questions of implementation and this side of the content question falls to Content Engineering. They are two very different practices and, as a matter of good governance, it is in fact important that they remain distinct and separate. It is also important that they also converge on the singular topic of how the content should be created so that it can satisfy all the content uses that have been envisioned. So it is that we can see how the two practices of Content Strategy and Content Engineering can be fostered and aligned. We can also see how they can interact in a productive give-and-take that leads to practical solution implementations and that this is really the only sustainable way forward. We can see in fact that the two practices need each other and that together they can make for a formidable force that organizations need to take seriously.
The time of year has arrived that usually prompts me to think about the relatively obscure topic of “intelligent content”. It is prompted in part by the prolonged effects of a Canadian winter. It is also prompted in each of... Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2014 at The Content Philosopher
A Tale from the Content Management Crypt Halloween Content Management Horror Story for TechWhirl 2013 Like all good horror stories, this one starts with a group of normal people engaging in a convivial discussion—one full of optimism and hope. It began as an online discussion about how all content management investments generate some good. There is no such thing, it was felt, as an absolute content management project failure. Of course, this convergence of positive feeling could not be left to stand. Predictably, such cheerful dreams called forth a virtual Freddie Kruger who could not resist the temptation to intervene. And thus a post was introduced into the story circle, called “The Perfect CMS Failure.” Perhaps because they assumed that the positive spirit of the campfire discussion would continue, the participants welcomed the contributor into the circle. They were gravely mistaken. To make things worse, the story was a very recent case study and undermining one of this group’s favourite beliefs, this case study saw the very best tools, or at least the most expensive ones, being deployed. It was immediately impossible to relegate this failure to the poor practices of an unenlightened past. So the story begins harmlessly enough. A senior consultant was contacted by a large government organization that administers the judicial process within a specific jurisdiction. They wanted an independent assessment of their most recent foray into content management. This organization had invested heavily in an enterprise content management system and they disclosed that they had encountered a “few issues.” This project had started with the usual honeymoon phase. Requirements-gathering sessions were convened and participation was good. This was impressive because many of the users were high-priced, and very busy, lawyers. And a team of high-priced consultants had been flown in from around the world to help with this effort. The requirements snowballed, and before long the team had an impressive matrix of requirements that would be used to select a content management system. Given the nature of the legal environment, many of these requirements revolved around ensuring that sufficient security controls were in place for the content. This process happily culminated with a CMS selection that coincided with the parallel technical selection process, driven by criteria such as compatibility with the existing infrastructure, team skills, and architecture standards. At this point in their project, things were looking great. The choice of CMS platform would be one of the most expensive available, if not the most expensive, but it covered all the requirements and was especially strong on the security side. As when Icarus flew higher and higher, the project stakeholders started to congratulate themselves even before the roll-out began. In fact, they were so confident that they jettisoned plans for a pilot deployment so they could acquire a full enterprise license and charge straight through to implementation. Like Icarus, they probably didn’t notice the impact of the heat of the sun on the wax on their wings. The implementation proceeded relatively smoothly, and a surprising number of the organization’s staff, including the high-priced lawyers, participated in workshops convened to refine the implementation details. Usability experts were engaged and worked earnestly to build in support for the users’ needs. External stakeholders were involved to ensure that the implementation was also implemented in a way that would conform to a raft of government standards and edicts on information management. The technology group established processes for performing a mass import of information from legacy systems scattered around the organization and that the new CMS was intended to replace. Training sessions were conducted and reference resources made available to all impacted staff. Although some who had been down this road before might have seen what was coming and given warning, the project stakeholders moved onto their second batch of Champagne as they approached the “go live” date with no indication of the darkness that lurked behind the project dashboard. True to the horror story motif, it was only on the very day that the new system was to “go live” that problems were noticed. And although these problems had been initially positioned as a “few issues” the magnitude of the problems was in fact, breathtaking. On the “go live” date, the new system was launched. It contained the master copies of all documents created in the department and that remained of active interest. The new system was the place where all future work within the organization was going to be transacted. It was a “Big Bang” cut over. “Big Bang”, it turns out was an apt choice of words. On one level, the failure was in the technical implementation. As high-priced lawyers sat down at their desks they realized that their machines were taking an unusually long time to start up. In most cases, their machines never did start up successfully. It turned out that the CMS client, when combined with the security software that it was bundled with, was simply too much for the desktop or laptop computers to load up. On the functional level, those few users who were able to gain access to the system found the combined effect of all the isolated efforts to optimize the environment for various needs, such as records management, in fact made the workspace a virtual train-wreck of complexity. Finding things, sharing things, using things proved to be as unbearably difficult as holding onto an umbrella in a raging thunderstorm. Within a matter of minutes, the system was abandoned by its victims, the users, as completely unusable who retreated to the relative safety of legacy systems like villagers draping themselves in garlic. Suddenly the stakeholders, like the high-priced lawyers, raised objections that all their time that had been invested in good faith in the project had been wasted. The cost of this time alone ran to a figure that was comparable to the significant licensing cost for this enterprise tool. Naturally, the horribly scarred project team contacted the vendor of the tool with a desperate plea for assistance. But the vendor, who might have been named Lector or Hyde in another time and place, said that they were about to retire this product and that the only real option was for the organization to migrate to a new, and completely different, offering. And unfortunately there would not be any credits provided for the acquisition of the new tool. In effect, none of the development investments that had been made would be portable to the new environment. It was about this time that our intrepid, and innocent, senior consultant appeared on the scene to look into the “few issues” that the project had encountered. On the very first day of this engagement, the consultant, like an Egyptologist interpreting the hieroglyphic curse at the entrance of the tomb, had to inform the CIO and the senior business stakeholders that their project was a “perfect failure.” The investments made, on a per user basis, could not have been higher and the system logs proved that not a single user had performed any work in the environment. The stakeholder community who had invested so much effort and so much hope had, in the course of minutes, splintered into recalcitrant pockets of users using tools and processes of their own design. Because the “Big Bang” had coincided with the turning off of several legacy systems, these users were forced to come up with fall-back positions and post-apocalyptic manual workarounds. As should have been expected, the CIO postured a lot and pretended to be unsurprised that this business-led initiative had fallen afoul. The project could still be seen as a success from the perspective of the technology group, because they had been able to expend their annual budget on schedule and the technology group team members had successful retired many legacy systems, a metric that the CIO was to be evaluated on. So as the dust settled, the meaning behind this failure began to sink in and it was perhaps the most terrifying thing. On the surface of things, it looked like everything was done correctly. All the right specialists were involved. All the right stakeholders had been engaged. But the result was a massively expensive CMS repository solution with no active users and no active content – even though it technically held everything that was important. The failure had been perfect – even sublime. And, in the deep of the night, there is one thought that still awakens the consultant who found himself performing the autopsy and who grew silent as the terrible truth was laid bare. This perfect failure was a result not so much of doing things wrong but of doing too many things right. Like the tale of the body-snatchers, it was difficult distinguish were the guilty parties and the innocent victims (although it seemed pretty clear that the CIO had blood on his hands). Our protagonist emerged from the experience with a changed view of the world. He had seen failure before but nothing quite so stark and unrelenting. There was simply no room left for optimism or hope. This consultant would forever after be unable to participate in discussion circles where this optimism and hope were the main currencies. And as expected, the introduction of his story into the original discussion circle led to complete silence. Suddenly cheerleading seemed out of place. And the walking dead moved on in search of new hope and perhaps new victims.
Toggle Commented Jan 25, 2014 on Fear of Content at The Content Philosopher