Dammit Jim, I’m a Webmaster, not a Digital Government Web Content Communications and Application Development Knowledge Management Specialist! ...or am I?

Is the term webmaster an accurate description of the responsibilities of today’s web professional, or is that moniker just a quaint artifact from the simpler, earliest days of the web where someone akin to a similarly quaint notion of a Ringmaster juggled a circus of unwieldy text, spinning logos and blinking text?

Those were the 1990’s, and while the profession is still undecided on what to call it’s folks formerly known as webmasters, the web community has in fact moved on to figure out that it takes an entire web village – and now even other villages near and far – to run a modern web presence. This seems to be the consensus from recurring threads on the Web Content Managers Forum, the leading forum for government employees who manage the content of government websites. This blog highlights many of the themes from those on-line discussions.

One comment in particular on the Web Content Managers Forum illustrates the incongruity of the old, one-person web shop by comparing the web to traditional print media processes. Does the IT staff of a newspaper or magazine manage the design and layout? Do the newspaper’s reporters deliver their stories to the paper’s back-shop IT for editing? Of course not.

These mismatched roles and responsibilities in the web world are the inevitable result of attempting to use limited resources to cover all of the various job titles depicted in the illustration. The titles in the illustration are all really just focused on two broad categories: content and technology, which can be broken down into the following basic components of running a modern website:

  • Content (write, edit, manage)
  • Governance (policy, roles, responsibility, administration)
  • Design (brand, layout, navigation, images)
  • Architecture (systems, security, technologies, backup)
  • Applications (interactive tools, databases, languages, API’s)
  • Outreach (social media, public affairs, other media and platforms)

The newest, and I think the most revolutionary pieces of this puzzle are the concepts of the social web. The semantic web, content syndication, mobile apps and cloud computing are reshaping once again how we run our websites. These new technologies and concepts transcend the core definition of how we thought we should create and maintain our web presence.

Chances are that an old-style webmaster, a content management system, or even a well-structured web editing governance strategy no longer commands a dominant role in deciding the exact contents of a “web page”. The modern web page is likely populated dynamically from multiple disparate sources and is modified, added-to and constantly re-priorized and redistributed multiple ways by the users of the information (the public) through the aforementioned social web and related technologies. It’s as if the home builder has given the home owners the tools and access they need to customize their own house while it’s being built. The webmaster is now arguably anyone who perhaps updates a WordPress blog, or for that matter, anyone who posts comments on that blog, votes it up or down, provides syndicated material for it or hosts the entire site in their cloud.

To borrow another idea from the Web Content Managers Forum, if the web of the 1990’s was the Wild West with the webmaster as wagon master, then the web professional of today’s new social web is something more like The Manager of Fleet Operations. Regardless of the title today’s web universe happens to bestow upon me and my colleagues in the business, we are all excited and ready to master whatever comes along.

- Dave Kitzmiller, Webguy