In IA Practice, Information Architecture
Summary: What happens if the owner of a website isn't able to take care of it? A content strategy that plans for website governance is key.

Michigan Central Station in 1915 - Photo by REVIVALthedigest
Photo by REVIVALthedigest
The now abandoned Michigan Central Station (MSC) sits as an icon of the Detroit that once was. In its day it was considered the transportation center of the area; the “Ellis Island” of Detroit, as it was the often the first place inside of Detroit encountered by visitors.

MSC sent out its last train in 1988 and has sat abandoned ever since. Being a train station it has many large un-barricaded entrances that allow people, read: looters, to come and go as they please. They have extracted nearly everything of value from the building, breaking windows and vandalizing what what isn’t of value. (I am not a historian, so if you want to learn more, go read about it.)

Broken Windows at Michigan Central Station - Photo by Matt Hampel
Photo by Matt Hampel

When I hear the history of that building I immediately see parallels to a fear that I have when creating plans for a beautiful, complex, and meaningful website for which there is no set or planned governance; what is going to happen if they don’t take care of it? This fear never comes about because I think the owners don’t want to take care of it, but because it is hard to establish the proper website governance and maintenance protocols needed to do so and if they are not intentionally created and enforced, they will probably never exist.

There have been a couple half-baked attempts at restoring the former glory of MCS, none of which have ever come about. I’m not clear on the reasons behind these attempts falling through, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that the effort would be huge and the cost would be high.

Earlier this year it was noticed that five windows, randomly located, had been replaced. The owners of MCS have no idea where the windows came from as they did not order any work done on the structure. It is as if some vigilante stepped on the scene and has tried to make it better. New Windows in Michigan Central Station - Photo by Mark Byrnes at The Atlantic Cities
Photo by Mark Byrnes

But have they?

MCS has hundreds of broken windows; if I were to guess, I’d say 1% of the windows are not broken, including the five new ones. Can an individual work on their own to restore and bring order to a broken system? What will keep the looters who broke the old windows from breaking the new ones?

As much as I loved reading about these windows just “appearing” as a beacon of hope for this old structure, I don’t believe that this kind of vigilante restoration will be sustainable or scalable to the entire structure. To the same tune, a content strategy needs to encompass the entire organization and needs to be thorough and planned, rather than be enacted in a guerrilla fashion. One person can’t solve a problem of long-term mis-management on their own. It is a lot harder to restore something in extreme dis-repair than to create a governance plan to ensure the dis-repair never occurs.

Get a content strategy with detailed governance while you plan your website. If you’ve already built your site, it’s not too late to establish these plans before you’re left with a hauntingly empty shell of an abandoned structure to far-gone for repair.

Share on
Recommended Posts