All your databases are belong to us

My latest project is to analyse the content database strategy of a major multimedia publishing company.

Like many media companies around today, its business model has changed dramatically to take on board different methods of broadcasting its output. And like many media companies around today, that business model has grown organically in an almost haphazard way, finding short-term fixes to meet the challenge of the moment.

This is not a question of cutting corners; much expensive work has been undertaken. But the bottom line is that media companies seldom have the luxury of stepping back from the everyday grind to properly assess where they are right now, let alone how they should progress from here.

That’s where I come in. As someone involved in content supply and manipulation for the best part of 20 years, I am a fresh pair of eyes. Nevertheless, the headaches have started to kick in around 11.30am each day, as I try to unpick the problems.

Simply put, they have added to their portfolio of databases as the years have gone by: from the weekly publication of a magazine, to the daily output of a web site and now the regular production of books, and all with the aim of running a joined-up operation, both online and off.

They now have three separate content databases, each with its own shelflife and tell-by dates; each with its peculiar naming conventions, and each with its needs and opportunities.

Is it possible to get all three databases talking the same language? It should be. After all databases are simple structured collections of information, manipulated by mathematical rules and logical expressions. Actually, it turns out in this case that what most of the protagonists really mean when they talk about a database is actually a Content Management System. It’s a forgiveable slip; after all, a CMS is simply the front end of a database. The complication is having THREE Content Management Systems feeding into three vectors of transmission — to the web AND print.

Right now, my first task is simply to describe this on paper: call it a springboard to a place where I can begin to formulate possibilities. What follows over the next six weeks is anyone’s guess. At least I’ve got a good supply of headache pills.

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