Friday, November 11, 2005

Do intranet content standards and guidelines matter?

Of course they do

Coming from a writing and publishing background one of my primary focuses in both web and intranet development has been quality content so the answer from my perspective (and bias) is a resounding YES.

I am a firm believer that everyone in an organisation can be trained to write good accessible content for a website/intranet.

The focus needs to be less on actually ‘how to write for the web’ but more on how to edit and structure what you already have to work in a consistent manner in an online environment as content providers usually adapt content from other sources rather than start from scratch. This doesn’t however discount the importance of grammar, spelling and plain English.

Intranet guru says ‘I don’t care’!

One of the speakers and experts in the intranet field that I always have appreciated and taken a lot from, is James Robertson from Step two designs in Australia. A great advocate and evangelist for quality intranets.

I was a little taken aback by one of his recent posts commenting on several content focused presentations at the intranets ’05 event in Sydney. Mostly because one of them was mine!

James says that he ‘just doesn’t care’ and feels that the focus of intranets needs to be on other challenges that intranets face.

On bringing this up with James in a courteous email he clarified to say that it was more about ‘too much emphasis’ of the conference on content rather than intranet strategy and that content was important.

I can appreciate where he's coming from but I think content quality and training are far more important than he makes out.

Some comments in response to on James’ posting...

Developing guidelines need not be time wasting

Intranet content guidelines are not difficult to implement there are tonnes of material on the web around plain English, writing style guides and guidelines around writing for the web. It’s not difficult to adopt and develop guidelines from these.

As from intranet team time get some Communications/marketing people involved from the organisation. In fact I’d suggest it’s just plain silly to develop intranet content guidelines in isolation from the rest of the communication guidelines of the organisation.

If you don’t have these then start advocating for them as having a solid corporate style guide will save you bundles in writing and editing time not to mention presenting clear and consistent messages to your customers and/or users.

Training users

I certainly don’t advocate mass large training programmes to train authors. I feel it’s an evolving process. You set up some guidelines, communicate them out, give feedback on key content and the run training sessions for key providers.

These key providers should then be in a position to advocate the guidelines to others in their business groups/areas. It’s about centralising quality but decentralising provision. Not a hugely difficult goal and one , despite James’s comments, that is very practical.

Content value and quality is tangible

The value, and supporting evidence, of well written content is huge. Most of the value comes from time savings for users which in an organisation translates in cost savings.

In fact I’d say that poor written and structured communication is probably one of the easiest things to improve within an organisation to get good ROI not to mention the kudos from clients, customers and staff that get clear, consistent messages and can scan content quickly and effectively.

Having good navigation or search to find content is not enough, the content itself also has to be accessible, usable and useful.

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