Paying Down Enterprise Content Debt: Part 1

Purple box with number 1 and the text, "Framing the Problem." Signals first post in three-part series. Gray box with number 2 and the text, "Developing Solutions." Signals second post in three-part series. Gray box with number 3 and the text, "Implementation & Guidance." Signals third post in three-part series.

Summary: This series outlines the steps to diagnose, treat, and manage enterprise content debt, using Firefox add-ons as a case study. Part 1 identifies and frames the enterprise content debt issue.

Background

If you want to block annoying ads or populate your new tab with sassy cats, you can do it…with browser extensions and themes. Users can download thousands of these “add-ons” from Firefox’s host site, addons.mozilla.org (“AMO”), to customize their browsing experience with new functionality or a dash of whimsy.

Screenshot of the Tabby Cat extension new tab. The background is blue, and in the center is a large cat with a sweat headband, sitting next to a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. A caption beneath the cats reads, "Criminal Winky."

The Tabby Cat extension takes over your new tab with adorable cats

Add-ons can be a useful and delightful way for people to improve their web experience—if they can discover, understand, trust, and appreciate their offerings. Over the last year, the add-ons UX pod at Firefox, in partnership with the larger add-ons team, worked on ways to do just that.

One of the ways we did this was by looking at these interconnected issues through the lens of content structure and quality. In this series, I’ll walk you through the steps we took to develop a new content model for the add-ons ecosystem.

 

Understanding the problem

 

Add-ons are largely created by third-party developers, who also create the content that describes the add-ons for users. That content includes things like extension name, icon, summary, long, description, screenshots, etcetera:

Example extension content: A green circular icon with the letter 'M' sits next to the extension's name, "Momentum." Beneath this is a sentence summary: "Replace your new tab with a personal dashboard featuring to-do, weather, daily inspiration, and more!"

Sample developer-provided content for the Momentum extension

With 10,000+ extensions and 400,000+ themes, we are talking about a lot of content. And while the add-ons team completely appreciated the value of the add-ons themselves, we didn’t really understand how valuable the content was, and we didn’t use it to its fullest potential.

The first shift we made was recognizing that what we had was enterprise content— structured content and metadata stored in a formal repository, reviewed, sometimes localized, and published in different forms in multiple places.

Then, when we assessed the value of it to the enterprise, we uncovered something called content debt.Illustration of a man leaning forward in a business suit. He's holding a large gold bag on his back, entitled, "Debt," clearly struggling under the weight. Blue mountains rise in the background behind him.

Content debt is the hidden cost of not managing the creation, maintenance, utility, and usability of digital content. It accumulates when we don’t treat content like an asset with financial value, when we value expediency over the big picture, and when we fail to prioritize content management. You can think of content debt like home maintenance. If you don’t clean your gutters now, you’ll pay in the long term with costly water damage.

AMO’s content debt included issues of quality (missed opportunities to communicate value and respond to user questions), governance (varying content quality with limited organizational oversight), and structure (the need for new content types to evolve site design and improve social shares and search descriptions).

 

A few examples of content debt in action:

 

Screenshot of a Facebook social share example of an extension named "uBlock origin." There is a random image from the extension containing some small square photos, with stats about "requests blocked." Beneath this, the title "uBlock Origin - Add-ons for Firefox" with the body copy, "If you think this add-on violates Mozilla's add-on policies or has security of privacy issues, please report these issues to Mozilla using this form."

Facebook social share experience: Confusing image accompanied by text describing how to report an issue with the extension

Screenshot of a Google search "snippet" for the extension, uBlock Origin. It contains the line "uBlock Origin—Add-ons for FIrefox - Firefox Add-ons - Mozilla," the add-on's link, and then body copy, which begins with "Illustrated overview of its efficiency," followed by a link to a bug. Then the next: "Usage: the big power button in the popup is to permanently disable/enable uBlock for the current web site. It applies to the current web site only. It it not a global power button. ***Flexible, it's more than an "ad..."

Google Search results example for an extension. Lacks description of basic functionality and value proposition. No SEO-optimized keywords or social proof like average rating.

Screenshot of search results in the add-ons website for the query, "Investing." Search results include, "Ecosia - The search engine that plants trees! extension," "Booking Flights & Hotel Deals" extension, and then the theme, "Invest in Morelos."

A search for “Investing” doesn’t yield the most helpful results

All of this equals quite a bit of content debt that prevents developers and users from being as successful as they could be in achieving their interconnected goals: offering and obtaining extensions. It also hinders the ecosystem as a whole when it comes to things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which the team wanted to improve.

Given the AMO site’s age (15 years), and the amount of content it contains, debt is to be expected. And it’s rare for a content strategist to be given a content challenge that doesn’t involve some debt because it’s rare that you are building a system completely from scratch. But, that’s not the end of the story.

When we considered the situation from a systems-wide perspective, we realized that we needed to move beyond thinking of the content as something created by an individual developer in a vacuum. Yes, the content is developer-generated—and with that a certain degree of variation is to be expected—but how could we provide developers with the support and perspective to create better content that could be used not only on their product page, but across the content ecosystem? While the end goal is more users with more extensions by way of usable content, we needed to create the underpinning rules that allowed for that content to be expressed across the experience in a successful way.

In part 2, I walk through the specific steps the team took to diagnose and develop solutions for our enterprise content debt. Meanwhile, speaking of the team…

 

Meet our ‘UX supergroup’

 

“A harmonious interface is the product of functional, interdisciplinary communication and clear, well-informed decision making.” —Erika Hall, Conversational Design, 108

 

While the problem space is framed in terms of content strategy, the diagnosis and solutions were very much interdisciplinary. For this work, I was fortunate to be part of a “UX supergroup,” i.e., an embedded project team that included a user researcher (Jennifer Davidson), a designer with strength in interaction design (Emanuela Damiani), a designer with strength in visual design (Philip Walmsley), and a UX content strategist (me).

We were able to do some of our best work by bringing to bear our discipline-specific expertise in an integrated and deeply collaborative way. Plus, we had a mascot—Pusheen the cat—inspired in part by our favorite tab-changing extension, Tabby Cat.

Photo of the four team members, standing in a row. All four wear black t-shirts that read, "Serene Pusheen." They are smiling and have their hands under their chins.

Left to right: Jennifer, Emanuela, Philip, Meridel #teampusheen

See Part 2, Paying Down Enterprise Content Debt: Developing Solutions

 

Thank you to Michelle Heubusch, Jennifer Davidson, Emanuela Damiani, Philip Walmsley, Kev Needham, Mike Conca, Amy Tsay, Jorge Villalobos, Stuart Colville, Caitlin Neiman, Andreas Wagner, Raphael Raue, and Peiying Mo for their partnership in this work.