iSchool entrepreneur creates software to automate content analysis

Website professionals have traditionally spent weeks, sometimes months, hunched over computers, manually clicking page-by-page through sites, digging into and documenting content, cutting and pasting and posting results on spreadsheets to create content inventories.

Even experts who consider the work critical to understanding website content have described it as a “tedious,” “laborious,” and “mind-numbing” process.

Paula Land, ’04 graduate of the iSchool’s Master of Science in Information Management program, had a better idea. Three years ago the trailblazing content strategist, dreamed up a software tool that could take on much of the drudge work of a deep-dive inventory, delivering a detailed, quantitative look at what was on a digital property and how – or if --  that content was being used.

“All those years of doing content inventories, I kept asking ‘Why doesn’t somebody build a tool to do this?’ Finally I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I build it?’” says Land. “I thought, if you could use a computer to do the compiling part, then humans could get to the part that humans do well, which is the auditing, analysis, and decision-making.”

Her iSchool coursework in Information systems design, metadata, taxonomy, and related subjects – along with the school’s focus on optimizing user experience with technology – provided her a foundation for innovation. “Getting the MSIM degree really helped me focus my interests and attention on the challenges around organizing and presenting content,” says Land.

She co-developed the automated Content Analysis Tool (CAT) through the Content Insight startup she founded with partner and software expert Rebecca Benton. The CAT tool crawls through web pages recording page data, documents, media files, downloads, metadata, links, images, and other site content, some of it buried and long forgotten over years of site make-overs, tweaks, and staff turnover.  Clients may have little idea of what information is on their website, where it’s located, or how much of it there is – let alone what to do with it. “You might ask them how many pages they have, and they’ll say a few hundred pages when what they actually have is 5,000,” says Land. “That probably means they are not managing the content, keeping it up to date, keeping it on brand, making sure it’s still relevant and accurate.”

The CAT tool was launched in January 2013, with a tiered payment program and a free trial. Support was provided by another iSchool graduate, Misty Weaver (MLIS, 04), who built up CAT buzz through Tweets, blogs, and other social media. In less than a year, word of the tool has spread around the globe, with users in some 40 countries, from Kenya and Portugal to Switzerland and New Zealand.

Weaver, who conducts an iSchool lecture course on content strategy, calls the tool a “massive lifesaver.”  “In class we do a huge amount of content inventory… but I don’t tell my students  about the tool until they’ve learned to do their own manual inventories,” she says, laughing. “They tell me – “Oh, you are so cruel!’”

Though their paths didn’t cross in iSchool, Weaver knew of Land by reputation before they joined forces. “Paula is quite famous in the content strategy space,” she says. “She’s super-organized and totally knows her game.”

Land came to the tech world with a B.A. in English Literature and a background in scholarly and reference book publishing. Her passion for high-level organization dates back to her days as a child with a bent for tidiness. “I always liked managing the details and being responsible for things,” says the startup entrepreneur, whose keen brown eyes match a head of long, wild curls.

In the early 90’s, she moved from the New York print world to the Seattle digital universe, taking a job at Microsoft where she helped manage an online library of company-developed content. While working there, she learned about the iSchool’s executive MSIM program, a two-year program designed for working graduate students with industry experience. “I was trying to reposition my career and it was a good fit, a chance to create a new identity,” says Land. “I really liked the mid-career aspect of the program.”

She became part of the new program’s second graduating cohort of students. “Paula is the kind of student at who inspires her teachers, bringing insight and intelligence to the classroom and raising the intellectual bar for everyone,” says iSchool senior lecturer Michael Crandall. “She was also the stabilizer in her cohort, keeping everyone on track and calming them down when things got a little crazy, which they often did in those early years of the program.”

Land’s immersion in information management led her to lobby for a new position at Microsoft, the job of information architect. “My iSchool training helped me create that position and get that title,” she says. “And the existence of a masters-level degree in the field helped me build my case.”

From Microsoft, she moved to Razorfish, one of the world’s largest digital agencies, working as lead content strategist. A few years later she decided to become her own boss, creating a private consultancy in 2010 called Strategic Content that has served such big-name clients as Costco, REI, GHX, and F5 Networks.

As a high-level consultant, she takes data excavated by the CAT tool, connects the dots, and dives into the creative work of rethinking and rebuilding digital properties, often working with large, diverse teams from multiple departments in a company. “Once you know what you have, you can decide together what to do with it,” she says.

Striking out on her own with the startup was a bold move, and the entrepreneurial learning curve has been steep. “In retrospect, it’s very easy to get excited, get a business license, and set up a website. I don’t think at the start I had any idea how much work it was going to be -- how hard, how stressful,” says Land. “But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It has been fantastic.”