Thursday, September 8, 2011

Favourite books

I’m often asked if I have a “can’t live without these books” list for for my professional interests. Well, yes, I do have such a list and, no, I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the work I’ve done - at least not as well - without them. I certainly would’ve struggled had I not had them. Some of them I’ve had for a while and read through several editions. Others are relatively new kids on the block but I highly rate all of them. They’re all good value for money though one is stupidly expensive (I’m not going to say which one!). So, what are they?
My top Information Management titles, in no particular order, are:
Information Architecture for the world wide web (the ‘polar bear’ book)
(Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld)
This is probably the best book yet on the subject of creating information spaces. Although the main thrust of the book  is creating user friendly websites, the principles apply to any information space. Written from the perspective of librarianship, it covers all the essential elements of information management and them some.
Information Strategy in Practice (Elizabeth Orna)
All organisations produce and consume information on a daily basis but is it understood what elements of that information are critical to the success of the business? This book explains what an information strategy is, why organisations need one and how to produce and develop a strategy that is relevant and appropriate to any business. The whole area of strategy and policy is a hard one to grasp, let alone implement but this book shows the way in a thankfully jargon free style.
Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy (Ann Rockley)
This book examines the role of content within organisations, how to redeploy that content to avoid duplication of effort and how to create a unified content strategy. The book’s not just about strategy though as there are tons of practical advice and examples of how to take control of your organisation’s content. The appendices are a vital compliment to the book and contain a wealth of practical and useful guidance.
The Content Management Handbook (Martin White)
This book sets out in clear and simple terms how to introduce a content management solution into you organisation, what stages are involved and why it’s important to have a clear and detailed plan.
The Content Management Bible (Bob Boiko)
This is probably the mother of all content management books and contains everything you could possibly wish to know about the subject. It’s certainly not bedtime reading and some have commented that it contains too much information to be really useful. I disagree. Yes, it’s a big book and yes, some elements could have been covered more than adequately  in less words, but for sheer enthusiasm of subject and breadth of coverage, it’s worth it.
The Accidental Taxonomist (Heather Hedden)
This is a very interesting book. Most people who work in information have been (or will be) charged with creating some sort of navigable or findable solution to a content problem. A proper response will inevitably involve some sort of categorisation of topics or terms, but where do you begin if you haven’t previously been involved with traditional ‘cat and class’ or, you know you should create some sort of controlled vocabulary but don’t know where to begin. This is the book that will unlock the mysteries of that arcane practice that was once the preserve of Linnaean A types. One of a kind.
The Social Media Survival Guide (Deltina Hay)
There are a number of topics available covering social media in its various guises but none of them are as relevant, thorough or user friendly as this. I reviewed this book a while back and am happy to say that it’s still the best of its kind. Covers every important issue in social media and provides a very decent set of forms and templates to get your social media profile and presence up and running.
I’ve also found these really useful:
Tagging; people powered metadata for the social web (Gene Smith)
A great discussion of social media tagging and the relevance of folksonomies and group participation. People powered metadata is as relevant and useful as experienced practitioner produced and automated metadata. Covers the topic from a user and an implementer perspective.
Information Architecture: blueprints for the web (Christina Wodtke)
Contains some very honest and practical examples of how to design information spaces that are useful, engaging and inviting. If it’s well designed, people will use it. A compelling argument.
Don’t make me think: a common sense approach to web usability (Steve Krug)
Like ‘blueprints’ above, this title contains a wealth of wisdom and advice for creating useable information spaces which are intuitive and appealing to users. The fact that it does so in a semi comic book way, reinforces the overall message and questions why anyone would deliberately create anything that made people think.
and these are the organisations whose publications I find invaluable:
AIIMThe content management organisation par excellence. If you want to know anything about the ‘content profession’ this is the place. White papers, toolkits, guides, events and training are all provided.
The freepint groupA great collection of eContent for info pros everywhere.
for copywriting, where’s there’s a real dearth of UK titles, but I really like:
all by Andy Maslen. I’m also a frequent visitor to the Sunfish Copywriting Library. There are other good resources but I find these particularly useful. I also appreciate the style and delivery.
What books (or resources) can’t you live without?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The race is over!

Having attended the AIIM Roadshow in Earl’s Court recently, I must say what a great event it was – I’d definitely go again. There were some really informative talks by a wide range of speakers representing a variety of organisations from the well established info management regimes to some relatively new (E2.0) kids on the block.
There were also plenty of vendors to cater for all aspects of information management but particularly prominent were the many document capture technologies represented. This is clearly a hot topic at the moment. However, it was slightly disappointing that there were no organisations present who provide information management solutions to smaller businesses. They all seem cater for large organisations. Though I’m sure some of them, particularly Microsoft with their SharePoint offering, will say their product and solutions are suitable for organisations of all sizes. Hmm, maybe, but I still think there’s a market here. Google has gone some way to filling this gap with their Apps suite and it will be very interesting to see how this develops.
It was also a real pleasure to meet some people I’d previously only spoken to over the phone. Special mention go to Angela Hymas and the AIIM membership team.
I look forward to seeing you all again next time!
AIIM team

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The race is on!

In today’s fiercely competitive environment, the race will always be won by the best informed team with the most efficient business processes. To avoid losing ground to your competitors, you need to connect colleagues, suppliers, partners and customers with the information they need, when they need it and where they need it – using strong document and records management coupled with enterprise-strength searchweb-friendly collaboration and agile business process tools.
and that’s why I’ll be going to the AIIM Roadshow in London next Thurs (16th June 2011).
For those of you who don’t already know, AIIM is the organisation for information professionals or anyone who works with or has a keen interest in managing and optimising their information. By ‘information’, we’re talking:
It’s an impressive site and there’s a large collection of white papers, industry reports and online training courses. Professional membership is not expensive and well worth it if this is an area which interests you.
The main website is at but there’s also a UK site at

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mind your metadata (or, tagging an interest)

Getting a handle on the glut of information is something we all face on a daily basis whether on a personal or corporate level. Anything that can help us organise and find the content we need when we need it is most welcome. Over the years many tools, techniques and systems have been developed to help us do just that. From librarians managing large content collections and  information architects designing new websites to individuals trying to bring some order to their personal collections, the challenges are the same.
It’s generally agreed that ‘metadata’ (a description of the content or resource you’re trying to manage) can help and there’s no shortage of advice available. This is a big topic and there are plenty of resources available if you’d like to explore further. Just type the term ‘metadata’ into your favourite search engine and you’ll soon be awash with plenty of reading and learning material!
However, details aside, there are some very quick wins to be gained by using just a little metadata to describe your resources. By resources I’m thinking of documents, photographs, media clips, browser bookmarks and any other files you can think of. A little bit of descriptive data can be added to all of these making organising and finding them again easier.
Taking control
Metadata – as a concept or technique for describing and organising content – is actually part of a wider suite of organising tools well known to information specialists. Other,  well established, examples include:
  • Taxonomies
  • Ontologies
  • Controlled vocabularies
  • Thesauri
  • Facet analysis and other classification schemes
Inspired by the rapid growth of the internet, and the creation of shared information ‘spaces, these have recently been joined by some newer (more sociable?) cousins, for example folksonomies and tagging.
Very briefly, tagging is simply a quick and easy way of adding a term or keyword’ (or several) to a resource to categorise it and increase its findability. The main difference between a tag (in this sense) and the established approaches listed above, is that a tag allows you the freedom to chose whatever term you like (you can even make one up on the spot), but if your organisation uses a corporate taxonomy or controlled vocabulary, you’ll have to choose your term from a restricted list or some kind of ‘authority file’.
You may have already noticed that this blogging platform uses tags to label posts based upon their content, so you already get the general idea.
Metadata (tag it; find it)
In his book, Tagging: People Powered Metadata for the Social Web, Gene Smith defines metadata as “documentation for your data”. I recently wrote a review of this book on the Amazon UK website and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to explore the whole issue of tagging both from a user (customer) and a provider (business) perspective.
I like tags because:
  • They’re quick to implement.
  • They’re easy to use.
  • They’re even easier to understand.
  • They’re very flexible.
  • They can be used by anyone.
  • They can be as general or specific as required.
  • They can be personal (it means something specific to the user).
  • They can be social (a currently ‘trending’ topic).
Some purists don’t like this whole ‘folksonomic’ approach and feel that only professionally qualified and suitably experienced specialists should ever attempt such noble goals as attempting to bring order to content chaos. Me? Well, as a professionally qualified and suitably experienced specialist I’ve never had a strong commitment to purity and – depending on the circumstance – will go with anything that works!
Okay, here’s the point of all of this. By adding a few well chosen terms to documents and other media, you greatly increase the chances of finding them again in the future. You also inadvertently contribute to a classification scheme which enhances browsing and discovery by category. There are many good examples of systems that use tagging very successfully. Delicious (which I’ve briefly mentioned in a previous blog post) is a social bookmarking platform which uses tags (see a tag cloud here) to categorise bookmarks. Although it’s a relatively simple system to use, it’s very flexible and powerful. Tags can be combined to filter out unwanted results and drill down to more relevant ones. LibraryThing allows what it calls ‘tagmashing’ to filter out unwanted results using symbols such as , to combine and – - to exclude tags from a search.
With a little care you can easily add value to your resources (and greatly increase their findability and usefulness) by adding just a little bit of metadata. In delicious for example there are many bookmarks that lack both a meaningful title and a short description. These are so easy to add though that it defies belief why anyone wouldn’t bother. So, when I come across a bookmark in delicious, if I can’t understand the title and there’s no description, I’m unlikely to bother to click on the link just to see what I get. The logic is simple isn’t it? If the person who created the bookmark couldn’t be bothered to give it a meaningful title or add a short description, it’s clearly not very important. So if they can’t be bothered; neither can I. The moral of this story? Add a meaningful title and a short description. You’ll be glad you did and maybe you’ll encourage other people to follow your good example!
Now, where’s that spreadsheet ..?
The same goes for documents and files stored on your local computer and on shared networks and file servers. By adding a small amount of metadata (your name, date of creation, short description and a few keywords) you greatly increase the value and usefulness of the resource. If those documents and files end up in a document management system, they’re going to be much easier to categorise and search.
Every time you add a little bit of descriptive information to your resources, you’re both helping to categorise them and increasing their ability to be found. And that can only be a good thing. Well, assuming you want it to be found!
As mentioned already, this is a big subject and volumes have been written and will continue to be written as our shared information spaces develop. So remember, a little ‘meta-effort’ can go a long way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The social media survival guide (book review)

The Social Media Survival Guide is the second edition of Deltina Hay’s previous book entitled, A Survival Guide to Social Media and Web 2.0 Optimisation. The title this time is much snappier and the book is a substantial update to the previous edition.
Having read the first edition, I was keen to read the second to see what had changed. The answer is, a lot. One of the challenges with any book that incorporates technology is that it quickly becomes dated, not so much the principles, but certainly the examples. The author has done a very thorough job in updating these areas and it really is worth investing in the latest edition. I was particularly pleased to see a section dealing with web 3.0, the semantic web and cloud computing, all of which are becoming hot topics though aren’t necessarily discussed within the context of social media. There’s a lot of hype surrounding these areas so it was nice to see the author present them in a straightforward, practical, no-nonsense way. In fact, this is very much the style in which the whole book is written.
The book is comprised of 15 chapters, 4 appendices and a CD containing additional information (more on this  below). It’s important to mention that this is not a book about theory. This is very much a ‘how to’ manual, though it’s grounded in a an overall strategic framework.
The chapters are:
  1. Creating your social media strategy
  2. Preparation
  3. RSS feeds and blogs
  4. Building a WordPress powered website
  5. Podcasting, vidcasting and webcasting
  6. Social networking and micro-blogging
  7. Social bookmarking and crowd-sourcing
  8. Media communities
  9. Widgets and badges
  10. Social media newsrooms
  11. More social tools
  12. Pulling it all together
  13. Looking to the future
  14. Measuring your success
  15. Conclusion
The appendices are:
A. Installing WordPress
B. Creating your own RSS feed
C. Building your own widget
D. Preparing for the semantic web
The book covers a lot of ground but there are plenty of example screenshots and everything is explained simply and clearly. Just about everything you could possibly want to know about social media is presented in sufficient detail to give you the confidence to get started, or, if you already have, to improve on what you’ve already done. This is one of the strengths of the book, it can be taken on many levels from absolute beginner to the more experienced.  The chapters each cover a specific topic and are sufficiently self contained to stand on their own so it isn’t necessary to read everything, but having said that, I found myself reading the whole book to ensure I didn’t miss anything important! There’s a real symmetry and cohesion to the book which does warrant reading it in its entirety so, perhaps while not absolutely necessary to read from cover to cover, it’s my guess that most people probably will.
There are a couple of really useful features that set this book apart and make it a good investment for anyone serious about creating a rich social media presence. Firstly, there’s a couple of chapters that cover the importance of having a strategy and getting prepared. This might sound obvious but I wonder how many people are so keen to jump right in they overlook the importance of planning what they really want their social media presence to do for them?
The other really nice feature is the accompanying CD which is crammed with useful  additional resources to further help the reader (a list of relevant resources appears at the end of each chapter). The CD contains a Companion Materials pdf eBook containing bibliographic details of further reading material, a list of user fillable forms and additional resources. This is a mini book in itself and contains a wealth of material. By completing the forms, the reader will soon be able to create their own unique social media strategy. The author and publisher have also given permission for the forms and spreadsheets to be used with a purchaser’s students, business and clients provided full copyright attribution is preserved. I think this is excellent and can see many consultants and trainers using it in this way.
The author has a very comprehensive social media presence, which you would expect, so there are plenty of real word examples here too which you could see in operation to further consolidate your exploration of social media.
This is one of those rare books that you wonder how you ever got by without. If you do want to know what the whole social media thing is about, how it works, what it can do for you and how you can get up and running, there really is no better book.
A couple of minor gripes.
  1. I do think the book could benefit from the inclusion of a glossary which gathers together in one place all of the terms used e.g. RSS, Wiki, Cloud computing, Micro-blog etc. When you’re getting to grips with new terminology, it’s nice to be able to look up definitions quickly without having to use the index.
  2. A better sleeve for the CD. The first edition of the book had a better CD sleeve which was easily removed from the book. I like to copy the contents of the CD onto my hard drive and then store the CD in a drawer. The pages of the book turn much easier without the CD case permanently attached inside the rear cover.
But these really are minor points and should not detract from an otherwise excellent publication.
To sum up, this is an must buy book which is thoroughly recommended to anyone serious about creating and developing a social media strategy. It will be useful to online marketers of larger organisations and consultants who work with businesses helping them develop their social media presence. It will also benefit smaller businesses who are limited on time and resources.
While many individuals and businesses already have some sort of social media presence, it’s often very piecemeal and disjointed. This book will explain how you can create a unified social media presence by joining it all together. It’s not difficult, but it does take time and requires some forethought if you want to get it right.
For more information visit