Be Careful What You Repurpose!

By DANIEL ANTION posted 09-21-2011 12:34


Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending AIIM’s Content Management Boot Camp in Boston, MA. During Peggy Winton’s excellent opening session, she talked about “sharing, reusing and repurposing content”; in fact, Peggy used the word “repurpose” twice. As you can see from the title of this post, I think that particular word needs a refined definition. Actually, I’d like to redefine all three of those words:

Share – We have been taught since childhood that sharing is good, but I think we did a poor job of transferring the act of sharing into the digital age. If I had two cookies, and I wanted to share them with the girl in my 4thgrade class who I liked, I gave her one of my cookies. Sharing was an act of kindness, and we had to learn that it was good behavior because it was hard; it resulted in one less cookie. Fast forward, sigh, 45 or so years, and sharing is much less painful. If I wanted to share a document with that girl, I can simply send her a copy – now we both have a copy. Email is like a bottomless bag of cookies.

Sharing should be “sharing the same document”, not “giving anyone who asks for it, their own copy”. The act of sharing should have a reason behind it. The person I am sharing my document with should need it or at least really want it. I should share it by putting it in a place where we can both access it. I should not be allowed to make cookies on the fly.

Reuse – Again, from an early age, we learned that some things can be reused and some things can’t be reused. I could really go off the deep end of the gross scale here, but I don’t want to offend my readers. On the other hand, I don’t want to under emphasize this point. Let’s go back to 4thgrade and conjure up a frequently used item that is not reused; a Band-Aid. Nope, nobody is going to want to reuse a Band-Aid. Back in our time, we need to start thinking of some documents as Band-Aids, disposable, served their purpose, one and done, make no attempt to reuse that thing! A good example is a meeting agenda. It is so easy to take last week’s or last year’s agenda, change a few dates, change a few names and bingo, we have a new agenda. It is equally easy to include last year’s typos, forget to change a date, or a name and really look stupid at this year’s meeting. Nothing so clearly says “I don’t really care about you” as making it obvious that you didn’t want to take enough time to create a one-page document. If you have a lot of meetings, create an Agenda template.

Repurpose – I think we recognize that repurpose and reuse are very similar. I would go as far as to say that repurpose is the only acceptable kind of reuse we should allow. I would be happy with that, if we weren’t surrounded by bad examples of repurposing a document. A good example of repurposing is taking a technical report and turning it into a management presentation; lifting out relevant bits of minutia to substantiate a general point. Another good use of repurposing is to take an internal report and use it to generate web-based content for external consumption. A bad example of repurposing is taking a report from the past, or from a similar situation, and “adapting” it to a current or different situation. When we do that, we tend to forget to change the metadata that belonged to the earlier report. Now, our new document and our new people are associated with a subject or an event from the past. I have seen this particular error, and it is not a pretty sight.

If a vivid worst-case scenario helps, think about repurposing a prescription bottle. We might like the fact that the bottle is the right size, is the color that blocks UV radiation and already has a child-proof cap. However, if we don’t remove the metadata on the label, we could cause great harm.

The next time you grab a document to share, reuse or repurpose, think about cookies, Band-Aids and prescription bottles. Which one are you about to click on?

#share #Repurpose #metadata #reuse #SharePoint