The User as Content

Websites publish content for people to read, search, and sometimes experience through visual or audio means. Typically, the content is geared around a specified subject such as products sold by a store or discussions over a set of topics.

Content is usually separate from the people that create it. For example, a news site would have several reporters creating news articles, submit them to an editor who then approves and publishes them on the site. A business offering services would create descriptions of the services and place them on web pages. Support forums would have multiple users login and ask questions and share answers.

In each of these cases, people create content and then the content is what is read, searched, responded to, purchased, or asked about. Sure, there are often links to the author of the content and you can read their profile and possibly even get links to other content they have created but the content itself is not the user.

I have built and maintain several such sites. My business, for example, fits into the "services offered" type of site where I promote my skills and experience as useful for potential clients. I also run the Oregon Delphi User Group which lists upcoming meetings on its website.

Recently, I built a slightly different kind of website. At first, I didn't see it as different. A group of computer consultants holds monthly meetings, promotes ethical business practices, and shares referrals. In many ways, it's like other websites in that it talks about the group, how to join, and lists the next meeting. So far, no problem.

But since one of the main goals of the group is to increase business through referrals, the main content to be promoted is not content the users create but the users (computer consultants) themselves. One approach to this would be for the webmaster to create all the business profiles as separate content but we want the individual members to manage their own listings so we chose not to go that route. Instead, each user logs in and manages their own profile.

I use Drupal for building websites and it is a capable tool that is used in thousands of website projects around the world. But I found searching for users instead of the content they create didn't quite fit the paradigm of how Drupal was setup.

There are several modules that support various ways of searching but none seemed to quite fit the bill. I ended up with a "filter" for consultant specialties instead of a keyword search. The group's size has diminished and the dynamic has changed over the years so this new way of finding the right consultant fits for now. But it really got me thinking about what is content and how it is stored and retrieved.

And it proves once again, that every project I work on has some new, unique aspect from which I will learn an important lesson!

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