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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2003
I was intrigued to find a book focussing on the importance of getting web content right, and I was ready to be impressed. Unfortunately, this book falls short through a combination of being non-specific, repetitive, and unfocussed.
The early chapters are quite promising, if a bit over-blown, and the general theme of the book - that content is a valuable commodity and needs careful planning and a multidisciplinary team - is introduced quite clearly.
But the authors don't expand on this, preferring to repeat themselves with job descriptions of the links in the publishing chain, and branching out into territory covered much more effectively by other books such as usability and navigation design.
What's really lacking are more juicy examples, tips on how web writing is different from other forms in practical terms, or examples of how to present numbers, images or diagrams. They also assume a large organisation with the resources for a multidisplinary team - where's the shoestring option for small businesses or public sector organisations on a budget? As the book descends in its later chapters into a plethora of general checklists, it's harder and harder to keep interested and focussed, since it seems so far removed from practical applications.
Beyond the initial chapters which argue strongly that poor content is a real business problem, the book doesn't present much that's new - which seems ironic given the title.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2002
I've read gerry mcgovern's columns on web use for years - he has quite a cult following - and always thought he spoke a lot of sense. I was reluctant to spring for a full price copy, but eventually dug deep.
He talks sense here at greater length and the money was well spent.
The very first of mcgovern's arguments is that almost everywhere but T&A sites (he doesn't say that) people come to the web and read. Calling them users is kind of stupidly non-specific. People use toasters and bicycles and cheese-graters. It is a useless description.
He calls them readers. Once you accept that, all kinnds of mysteries of web-design become clear. All the pop-ups, and funny colours and distracting gee-gaws become an obscruction to the purpose of the site - they distract readers from what they are there to read.
Even ads - if they bring in the money to keep the site going, but then stop people from reading it - then what was the point?
McGovern and Norton lay out how you should create a site that has effective content nice and simply.
They don't pretend to be high priests who hold the secret, just people who've looked at what works and they can help you do it too. I made just a couple of changes after reading the first couple of chapters and I could feel the difference.
Like a lot of plain good sense, once you've read it, it all seems perfectly obvious - it is hard to believe you didn't know that all along. But if it was so obvious, how come you kept littering your site with pop-ups and flash. After all, if they're such a good idea, how come turn-the-pages books outsell pop-ups by about ten million to one.
Go on, buy it, it'll improve your site, and it is a tax deductible after all.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton are experienced journalists who write unashamedly about text content. They define visitors as 'readers', not 'users', who come to a web site to read and gather content. If that makes Content Critical old fashioned, it is old fashioned for all the right reasons.
It deals with the fundamentals of web site content; its purpose, its design, its creation. Readers of McGovern's weekly newsletter won't be surprised by the content, themes or style of the book. It is direct, business-like, sometimes humorous and always well argued.
Content Critical is the best non-technical book on the subject of web content that I have come across to date. It is comprehensive and well structured. It demonstrates the authors' long fascination with the Internet as a publishing medium as well as their advocacy of information architecture as a professional discipline.
Content Critical has an important message and presents it according to its own rules and guidelines.
Content Critical analyses the benefits and costs of content with a model for comparing the cost of content to its reach and value.
It is easy to forget when we are surrounded by technological marvels that great content is still difficult and expensive to produce. The proliferation of television channels offering cheap to produce content is clear evidence of that.
The central chapters provide checklists and examples for the principles on which the majority of content rests. Topics include:
•Creating content and the importance of editorial (since 'even the best writer needs an editor')
•Information architecture as the foundation upon which a web site is built and developed
•Principles for good navigation design
•Content layout and design.
Content Critical is particularly scathing about headlines and summaries: 'Most headings and summaries on the Internet are poor. Headings often give you very little clue as to what the document is actually about.' Nor does it pull its punches when it comes to common stupidities: 'At all costs avoid "intro" or "splash" pages. They are a total waste of time.'
The final chapters cover building a web site production team and the publishing strategies required if an organisation is to treat content as a high-value asset rather than as a commodity.
Content Critical can be summed up by a recent Gerry McGovern newsletter: 'Time is our scarcest resource. The less time we have the more our attention span contracts. Write simply. Keep headings, summaries, sentences, paragraphs and documents short. Get to the point. Then stop.'
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 27 October 2003
This book is primarily about web site design, although that may not be very obvious from the title.
The overall premise is that the job of producing and running a web site has a lot in common with traditional paper publishing. Central to this idea, and the inspiration for the title, is that whatever the site, people actually visit it to read words. Not to look at pictures. Not to admire layout or coo at dynamic navigation menus. To find and read content. Everything else is at best irrelevant, at worst a distracting nuisance or even a reason to leave the site completely.
I wholeheartedly agree with this, and generally follow with the recommendations that the author makes about how to encourage and profit from this understanding: keep things simple, short, and fresh; understand your readers; make it easy to find stuff; treat editing and publishing as key business functions and so on.
What I find slightly disappointing is that the book itself doesn't entirely embody these values. The style is repetitive and often long-winded. As a well-edited web site or a conference presentation this would pack a much more powerful punch. I finished reading it mostly out of duty.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 1 April 2002
If you have to manage a website with a lot of content, say more than 20 or 30 pages, this book will help you a lot.
'Content Critical' brings a publisher's and an editor's view to content for the web. It explains it in a way that makes it simple for people with a managerial or technical point of view to understand.
'Content Critical' talks about topics such as metadata and full-text search, but looks on them from an editorial point of view, rather than a technical point of view. Unlike other books on related topics, this one starts with what your customers want, not with the technical ramifications.
As the book says, the main thing people do when they visit a website is read. To make it a pleasant visit, the text has to be readable and it has to be pretty obvious how to find your way around the website.
If you already have a journalistic background, you'll find this a useful handbook for website issues, as well as a good reference for colleagues who come from a different worldview.
If you don't have a journalistic background, it's an invaluable introduction. You will learn a lot from this book about the basic nuts and bolts of running a big website.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2002
When I read this book it was quite easy to get excited about things like - classification, information achitecture, navigation, metadata, XML etc. But when I look back it all seems so obvious. Most of it I already knew and the rest is common sense. But the writers have brought it all together - collated it in one easy (and actually quite enjoyable) read. That in itself is true value. The checklists and summaries are particularly useful. Not sure about the comments on video and audio content, but I get the point! And graphic designers might not like some of the things this book says about their contribution, but someone had to say it!
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2002
Gerry McGovan and Rob Norton have written a timely and authoritative contribution to the world of web development, analysis and practice. Their book, Content Critical gets to the heart of the matter; 'we are all publishers now'. They examine, unpick and inform all the key issues in a practical and clear way. So that the newcomer and expert alike is better informed and more able to engage with the real issues of new media publishing.
Gerry and Rob's book will act as a heaven sent antidote to the proliferation of so called 'new media' texts that either nibble at the fringes of the cultural and social issues of a 'cyber generation' or fixate on the latest technical nicety that simply contributes to the digital detritus that inflicts us all. Students and practitioners alike will benefit greatly from Gerry's book.
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