The Web is Made of People: ConfabEDU 2013

Crowd at Confab Higher Ed awaiting a morning keynote

We’ve often said at the CMS Myth that the hard parts of content management aren’t about technology but are about people, processes, and priorities. That’s perhaps especially true in Higher Education, where the number of audiences, sites, goals and stakeholders makes every decision complex, and institutional memory is long. (In Higher Education, often, a score of 99-1 is considered a tie).

I felt extremely fortunate to attend and speak at Confab Higher Ed earlier this week. I can’t say if it’s just because a content strategy crowd takes their content seriously, or if it was the fantastic organization and curation by Confab Events and Meet Content, but both the quality of the speakers and the level of audience engagement were consistently outstanding.

The keynote sessions which opened and closed each day set the bar high:

  • Kristina Halvorson on the challenges of governance, and using strategy to set priorities and principles. (See Meet Content’s Storify recap: Content/Communication)
  • Dan Roam on the importance of visual thinking and how it is an undervalued part of most people’s processes (Storify: The Back of the Napkin)
  • Perry Hewitt on Five Ways Digital Strategy Can Drive Excellence in Collaborative Content (storify)
  • Karen McGrane on the Mobile Mandate (storify)

They also set a very interesting tone – simultaneously very aware of the real challenges content folks in Higher Education face (limited budgets, proliferating platforms, conflicting stakeholder goals, and long institutional memories) but committed to the opportunity for change and the transformative bright spots that can happen when the right content in the right context meets the right audience. This was a conference to rally the faithful, to share stories of success (and sometimes of despair), and to remind us all of why we take on these challenges every day: in short, the opportunity to change people’s lives.

Hewitt, for example, shared the story of when she got the initial job offer that would bring her to Harvard, while at SXSW watching a panel on higher education that was so full of pessimism and despair over challenges that it almost convinced her she shouldn’t take the job. (Harvard is lucky she persevered!). McGrane was positively on fire about “the Mobile only user” (users who primarily or exclusively access the web on phones) and the need for higher educational institutions to take mobile seriously: If your institution’s mission is to connect to historically underserved audiences, and those audiences are heavily on mobile, you’re failing your mission if you’re not meeting them there. But she was also inspirational in terms of the opportunity we have to get it right, now, and expand access in a very fundamental way.

I spoke about CMS Myths in Higher Education, but instead of just focusing on myths in the sense of “lies vendors tell” or “popular but fallacious ways of thinking,” I also included a call for new myths. If the stories we tell ourselves are guides to future behavior, shouldn’t we be crafting such stories more deliberately and consciously?

I covered these myths as ones we need to critique:

  • The Platform Selection Myth
  • The Myth of Responsive Web Design
  • The Mobile Context Myth
  • The CMS Demo Myth
  • The Ease of Use Myth
  • The Myth of the Feature-Rich CMS
  • The Student Labor Myth
  • The Myth of Content Expertise
  • The One True Platform Myth
  • The Site Factory Myth

And these myths as ones to which we should aspire:

  • The Beautiful Homepage Sans Carousels
  • The Reasonable Governance Plan
  • The Rational, Coordinated Digital Student Experience
  • The Skillful Balance Between Centralization and Decentralization
  • The Powerful Toolset
  • The Empowered Team

Slides from my talk:

CMS Myths in Higher Education from John Eckman

For more on these and other talks, see Meet Content’s Confab Higher Ed 2013 Recap

About the Author

Formerly the Managing Director of Boston Connective DX office, John's passion for technology and the role of CMS are clear in his point of view.

More articles from John Eckman

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