Jeff Eaton

Digital strategy, content architecture, CMS nerdery

I help organizations understand their content and improve the tools they use to create, manage, and publish it.

  • With Karen McGrane and Ethan Marcotte, I’m a partner at Autogram. We’re a digital strategy team focused on the tangly intersection of content architecture, design systems, and governance in large organizations. Anyone can make it work; we want to make it scale.

  • My friend James Walker and I use Nerdhaus as an excuse to build and poke at varied tech and content projects. Web-based tabletop gaming tools? Check. 3D printing utilities? Yes. The occasional podcast? Of course.

  • With journalist Kristin Rawls, I co-host and produce Christian Rightcast. In it, we research and contextualize the movements and ideologies that make up the Christian Right in America.

  • For fourteen years, I was a CMS architect and digital strategist at Lullabot, a strategy, design, and development shop specializing in enterprise-scale Drupal sites. Along with my work for clients large and small, I built the company’s strategy practice from the ground up.

Content that matters

I got my start as a freelance tech journalist in the early 90’s, then spent a decade or two designing and building web content management systems. Today, I work with organizations that publish meaningful content — material that’s a core part of the work they do, a critical tool in building relationships with their customers, or central to their fundamental mission.

In most organizations, insights about why they create content and what tools they need to do it better are distributed unevenly across many people and roles. Understanding their content, and building tools to support it, means understanding and integrating those different perspectives. I help them make those connections using analysis, research, prototyping, workshopping, training… and lots of conversations.

I have a few areas of particularly deep focus:

  • Multi/Omnichannel Content strategy: Planning the production, management, and governance of content that will be used across multiple distribution channels. This often intersects with “decoupled” or “headless” approaches to content management.
  • Content architecture: Modeling specific content types and mapping their relationships, including the architecture of the CMS and editorial tools that will support it.
  • Design System Integration: Bridging the gap between pattern-oriented visual design, editorial processes, and structured CMS content.
  • Cross-Disciplinary Facilitation: Negotiating meaningful common ground between design, development, and content production teams.

I’ve done this work for large and small organizations including Apple, the state of Georgia, Harvard University, NBC Universal, The Society of Jesus, and IBM. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting projects where I can dig deep into these issues.

I talk about stuff.

I’m a frequent speaker at web tech, content strategy, and design events including The IA Conference, Confab, DrupalCon, SXSW, and Design/Content. I’m a contributor to UIE’s All-You-Can-Learn library, the occasional host of a content-centric podcast, and I’ve spent the last several years running content modeling workshops for individuals and teams.

  • RecouplingDrupalcon 2016

    This talk examines the interplay of meaningful design and structured content, and explains several ways to give editors and designers more control without sacrificing the purity of decoupled content APIs.

  • When Personalization Goes WrongConfab 2019

    A bite-sized lightning talk that offers a simple framework for personalization planning, and warns about the ways projects can go wrong. More of our world runs on algorithmic content every day, and the stakes are higher than most teams are ready to face.

  • You Matter More Than The CauseDesign/Content 2016

    Inspired by my own experiences in nonprofits and open source projects, this talk examines the ways inspiring missions and good intentions can backfire, with some hard-won lessons about protecting ourselves and our teams.

  • Why Open Source MattersDo It With Drupal

    While the talk was focused on web development, it drew heavily on MIT economist Eric von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation, examining the tension between user-driven innovation and product-based operationalization. Those themes have shaped my approach to content, design, and software ever since.

  • Planning Beyond the PageNow What? 2014

    The working title for this talk was cheekier — “The Page Is Dead.” Although I toned it down in the final version, the message still sounds radical to many marketing teams.

If you think the themes I talk about would be a valuable addition to your event, or your organization needs a crash course in advanced content architecture, drop me a line.

I write about stuff.

I write semi-regularly on Medium, contribute to the Lullabot blog, and host a mothballed personal site that serves as a record of embarrassing things I said in the 90s. There are, thankfully, a few standout pieces I think stand the test of time.

The Battle for the Body Field — A List Apart

“Clean, semantic markup is important, but it won’t solve complex structural problems… At its heart, the issue is a vocabulary mismatch. While standard HTML is rich enough for a designer to represent complex content, it isn’t precise enough to describe and store the content in a presentation-independent fashion.”

Building Beyond Our Means — The Pastry Box

“Tools and data may aspire to technopian neutrality, but it’s extremely difficult to draw lines around morally and ethically problematic applications of them. Those of us who cut our teeth on programming and web development in less hyper-connected times can have trouble remembering that.”

Inline Editing and the Cost of Leaky Abstractions — Lullabot

“The editing interfaces we offer to users send them important messages, whether we intend it or not. If the primary editing interface we present is also the visual design seen by site visitors, we are saying: ‘This page is what you manage! The things you see on it are the true form of your content.’ Often, it’s a lie: what you’re seeing is simply one view of a more complex content element, tailored for a particular page or channel.”

SXSW Keynote Disaster — The Process Liberation Front

“Data is agnostic. Information is amoral. Pointing the narrative-free fire-hose at the digital citizens of the third world does nothing to empower them; once the saturation point is reached, even valuable information is part of the problem. No one has the capacity to sift and filter, and we fall back into the embrace of our trusted interpreters. Paging Foucault: we’re poisoning the well with too much water.”

Using Drupal — O'Reilly & Associates

In the early days of the Drupal project, I co-authored the first book to emphasize its zero-code content modeling and assembly tools. Although the project has evolved since then, the building blocks we described are still at its core.

Let’s get in touch!