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Perspectives on information life cycle management

This article appears in the issue July/August 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 7]
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Information life cycle management (ILM) is a critical component of nearly every business. The efficiency with which information assets are managed—from creation to review, distribution and storage—significantly determines success. Many organizations are choosing to move to new solutions to improve the ILM process. And beyond the need to manage information for operational purposes, compliance is an important driver for ILM, whether the focus is on retention schedules in highly regulated industries or managing e-discovery requirements.

In the media industry, the right mix of content and timing makes all the difference in attracting readers in an increasingly competitive business. The newspaper The Advocate is published in Baton Rouge, La., which has a unique role in the region as the state capital and as the home of Louisiana State University. Also, after Hurricane Katrina, many people and businesses relocated to Baton Rouge from New Orleans. The Advocate found that its Web site needed to operate at a faster pace than its technology could handle.

For a number of years, content on The Advocate Web site was handled by a basic content management system that required code to be written for every change. Therefore, moving content through the various stages as its relevance changed was labor-intensive, requiring intervention by IT staff.

"When we looked at our content and processes," says Mike Wilson, digital media manager for The Advocate and also for its affiliated television station, WBRZ, "we found a major disconnect between the news staff and the technical staff." The underlying logic and purpose of the site was unclear relative to the content that was presented, and turnaround on posting content was too long.

To gain flexibility and efficiency, The Advocate moved to the Clickability Platform from Clickability. The new system enabled much greater control of the flow of information posted on the site. One major improvement was the ability of news staff to post stories directly to the site using a template. Content could also be moved easily.

"We have a list of Hot Topics," Wilson says, "which can be created on the fly as stories evolve." Mini-sites related to the Hot Topics can be created that have an array of items that allow news staff to add, mix and match to get a top down view on a particular story.

In the process of shifting to the Clickability Platform, The Advocate thoroughly reviewed its content and expanded its range considerably. "Originally, we had only a few types of content on our Web site," Wilson explains. "We had news stories, video and one other category for everything else."

Now, about 50 types of content are managed. For example, gallery content allows a slideshow to be posted on the site that displays a series of still pictures, using Flash. "Any user of the system can set up a slide show," he adds, "pick out the photos and add audio."

As would be expected, the life cycle of content on the Web site varies considerably, depending on events and reader interest. "We have had many different retention policies," says Wilson, "some of which were simply a function of what the system could do." For example, at one point, content more than 30 days old was removed from the Web site and was available from an archive for a fee. "Now, though, we are moving toward a ‘long-tail’ model of content retention, having all content available at all times," he says. Readers cannot necessarily navigate to all the content through links on Web pages, but can access it via search.

The logic for the change is strong, according to Wilson, because "the reality is, once you put something on the Internet, it is out there forever." Because the storage costs are low, the newspaper is best served by drawing readers to its own site. An exception is video, because the files are large; but for text, no limit is placed on the length of time for which it is stored.

One advantage to keeping the content handy for a long time is that when a story is updated or takes on new life because of recent events, background material is readily available. Providing a lot of associated information engages people more. "We see increased revenue from advertising because people come back to a sticky site," Wilson says.

The Clickability Platform provides metrics that help determine which stories stay on the most accessible pages. "If we think a topic is a good one but it’s not getting a lot of clicks," notes Wilson, "we take a look to find out why—maybe it needs a better headline, for example." Comments from readers are also reviewed. But if interest remains low, "we are ruthless," he says. "The content is out."

Metrics also provide an overview of the site’s performance. For example, site views since Clickability was launched have grown from under 5 million to almost 14 million page views per month, and the number of page views per visit has increased 250 percent. Along the way, advertising revenue has gone up 120 percent year over year, and sale of ad space has increased by 150 percent. With numbers like that, along with a 75 percent reduction in staff time for Web maintenance, the change was worth the investment.

Ease of use is one of the qualities that Clickability touts most strongly. "You can get more content up because it’s easy to add," says Robert Carroll, VP of marketing at Clickability. "The life cycle is easy to manage too—you can keep content in place for a week, automatically move it to another place, archive it or use an API to push it from a print press to the Web."

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