The growth in web-centric communication has created a major focus on content management, web content management , component content management, and so on. This interest is driven primarily by increasing demand for rich, interactive, accessible information products delivered via the Web. The focus is not misplaced but may be missing part of the point. To be specific, in our focus on the “management” part of CM, we may be missing the first word in the phrase…. “Content.”

It’s true that the application of increasing amounts of computer and brain power to the processes associated with preparing and delivering the kind of information demanded by today’s users can improve those products. But it does so within limits set by and at costs generated by the content “raw material” it gets from the content providers. In many cases, the content available to web product development processes is so structurally crude that it requries major clean-up and enhancement in order to adequately participate in the classification and delivery process. As the focus on elegant Web delivery increases, barring real changes in the condition of this raw content, the cost of enhancement is likely to grow proportionally, straining the involved organizations’ ability to support it.

The answer may be in an increased focus on the processes and tools used to create the original content. We know that the original creator of most content knows the most about how it should be logically structured and most about the best way to classify it for search and retrieval. Trouble is, in most cases, we provide no means of capturing what the creator knows about his or her intellectual product. Moreover, because many creators have never been able to fully populate the metadata needed to classify and deliver their content, in past eras, professional catalogers were employed to complete this final step. In today’s world, however, we have virtually eliminated the cataloger, assuming instead that the prodigious computer power available to us could develop the needed classification and structure from the content itself. That approach can and does work, but it will require better raw material if it is to achieve the level of effectiveness needed to keep the Web from becoming a virtual haystack in which finding the needle is more good luck than good measure. Native XML editors instead of today’s visually oriented word processors, spreadsheets, graphics and other media forms with content-specific XML under them, increased use of native XML databases and a host of rich content-centric resources are part of this content evolution.

Most important, however, may be promulgation of the realization across society that creating content includes more than just making it look good on the screen, and that the creator shares in that responsibility. This won’t be an easy or quick process, requiring more likely generations than years, but if we don’t begin soon, we may end up with a Web 3 or 4 or 5.0 trying to deliver content that isn’t even yet 1.0.