Spreadsheets. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.

Spreadsheets how I love/hate you. Let me count the ways.

Okay, I promise to stop waxing lyrical right now about, of all things, the humble spreadsheet.

But let’s be honest, they are a common tool in the world of the web content, and need some respect. Just some of the things we use them for include:

  • describing web content architecture
  • tracking content delivery in web projects
  • conducting web audits and building review cycles
  • displaying web analytics

I have a healthy respect for spreadsheets. They can be very useful, but also a complete waste of time.

A good example of this would be a project I worked on a few years ago that involved merging a number of sites into one big site. The design team, with the content team and IA teams help (big project) put together the mother of all spreadsheets. It was a thing of beauty with multiple columns, functions and features, and it described down to the most precise level where content on the existing sites was going to end up on the new big one. We web people found it useful. There was even an idea that we would be able to keep this Himalayan document going post-launch.

But as the project progressed, the spreadsheet slowly slipped into the background, and was superceded by site maps built in Visio.

We sent content creators and owners both the Visio maps and the spreadsheets. Almost without exception, these people used the Visio maps to work with as they helped us create the site’s content.

The exceptional few content owners who looked at the spreadsheet in detail discovered that it’s complexity hid a few glaring errors that no one else had spotted (not our content team, not the designers, not the architecture team). And suddenly the spreadsheet was being referred to as just a draft version of things.

And , you know what? It was. The site we delivered reflected that spreadsheet only at a high level. At a page level the new site was totally different. Such is the nature of content creation involving  many people and teams.

Boring story huh? Well yes, but we still need those spreadsheets. I use them a lot, and in fact would like to be more skilled at running functions using them. You see, I am not a spreadsheet whiz, yet I spend enough time using them that a few more skills in this area would be useful.

So stay tuned, because I’m expecting to post again once I’ve got some more skills in this area to share.

(A note: I mainly use Microsoft Excel – but there are no doubt some better freeware products out there that work much better?).

Some other thoughts and spreadsheet resources:

  • Microsoft Office training site (includes training for different versions of Excel)
  • Six Data Visualizations That Rock! Advanced advice from the Occam’s Razor blog. Interesting info for those thinking about using spreadsheets to present analytics. Scroll down to the comments and you’ll see Avinash Kaushik forgot to include some useful Excel presentation tips in the actual post.)
  • The content inventory is your friend. Kristina Halvorsen believes in the content inventory – and sees the spreadsheet as the key tool for this. I believe she even encourages you to hug a spreadsheet!
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