Lasswellian Definition of Content Management

Let me begin with the parsimonious edition of this blog: Content management is defined as who gets what, when and how in an organization. Have a great week!

That’s really all you need to know to help you to move away from analysis paralysis and begin managing your content. The rest of this post is optional 😉

In the past few days, I’ve seen numerous Tweets and Linkedin updates, etc. pointing to definitions of enterprise content management, digital asset management, media asset management. learning management systems…. (also known as ECM, DAM, MAM, LMS respectively).

I know the authors mean well, but I think that another wave of overlapping and competing definitions, just further distracts from the real mission of putting content in front of appropriate eyes at appropriate times. We need fewer definitions not more.

Whatever manufacturers, integrators, bloggers, etc. might call their solutions (ECM, LMS…) they are all managing content. This is something I alluded to in a recent blog.

Any content management (….DAM, DM, ECM…) system shoud provide:

  • Security
  • Content Repurposing
  • Workflow
  • Fulfillment

Several years ago, I read a paper  by Frank Gilbane that contained some timeless comments about content management, most notably that content management is:

“….a relatively recent term that has emerged coincident with the web….”


“It would be nice to think that the industry realized we needed a useable term that didn’t discriminate between content types and chose “content” to fill the gap we described above. But of course that isn’t what happened. Instead there continues to be a slow evolution of what we understand content management to be.”

That still hasn’t happened, we are still very discriminatory against content types.

Content management is a great descriptive (robust , extensible, scaleable…) term. However, its usage is rooted in the description of the late 20th century tools (Vignette, Interwoven…) that helped to facilitate management of Web content. I don’t think that people really considered that products that were bearing the DAM (Cumulus, Telescope….) or DM (Documentum, Filenet…) labels had been managing content all along. As were the staff members at your downtown library.

That being said we can continue to argue about the acronyms. Or we can ask really smart person, I defer to the noted content management expert Harold Lasswell, who said that content management ( including DAM, ECM, DM…) “is who gets what, when, and how.”

OK that was a bit of a reality distortion. Lasswell was a political scholar, and he never said that; he was talking about…politics. The quote was ”Politics is who gets what, when and how in a society.”

Still, we can apply Lasswell’s adage to the area of content management:

Content Management is who gets what, when and how in an organization. All content management systems should help to facilitate the following:

Who Gets The content? (Security)

  • Content consumers — students, customers, employees…
  • Content contributors — artists, writers…
  • Content Approvers—editors, managers…

What Content Do They Get? (Content Creation and Repurposing Rules)

  • Word Documents
  • Web Pages
  • PDFs
  • MPEGs
  • Braille
  • Voice

When Do They Get The Content? (Workflow)

  • When they browse (content consumers)
  • When they’re working on it (content producers)
  • When its ready to be published (content approvers)

How Do They Get The Content? (Fulfillment)

  • Download to desktop
  • E-mail
  • FTP
  • iPhone

Get it?

We can continue bicker over definitions and parsing the three-letter acronyms, or we can defer to Dr. Lasswell. Stop mulling over acronyms and go solve your  organization’s (or your clients’ ) content problems.

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