Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Day: February 16, 2006

Actionable Content, Redux

I wanted to add some additional thoughts to the recent post on actionable content. That post reflected on the general idea of actionable content, differentiated it (maybe, maybe not) from transactional content, and pointed to an example of the amazing depth of content that is now available on some Web sites. The particular example was an industrial marketing Web site, Oriental Motors, but the requirement for actionable content spans many kinds of businesses and many kinds of non-business organizations. Think of a massive retail catalog like or a smaller, specialized one like Both need to provide their users with detailed content–and often many kinds of content–that the user can consume, analyze, download, and even manipulate and share in the course of deciding whether to buy and precisely what to buy.

Nor is actionable content limited to eCommerce applications per se. Think of a government Web site that provides necessary forms for businesses and individuals, school systems and colleges that provide Web-based learning applications, and an employee human resources portal that provides benefits information. (And my favorite example of all, a large fantasy sports site such as Yahoo Fantasy Sports that provides a staggering array of content, statistics and analytical tools to keep users busy full-time and around the clock.)

What is common among all of these sites is the content of course, and content that is available when users need it to further the process they are engaged in. As Mary and Bill Z helpfully told us, transactional/actionable content, “is the content that flows through the commerce chain, initiating and automating processes such as procurement, order management, supply chain planning, and product support.” In other words, it is the content that is available when the person needs it, in the forms the person needs it, to further the business process they are involved in.
Sounds easy, but of course, as in so many things, the devil is in the details. It’s one thing to say you want to provide the right content in the right format at the right time, but it is another thing to actually do it. If you start to think about it, providing this kind of actionable content in context requires the content to be available–and it requires the business logic and the technical apparatus to present the correct content at the right point in the workflow or business process.

For now, let’s put aside the issues of business logic and technical apparatus and look at the issues about the content itself. What characteristics must the content have to be actionable? In no particular order, I offer the following.

  1. The content must be granular. In other words, it can’t exist as one giant blob of content, but must be accessible as usable chunks of content that can be presented in a useful context–so one product image at a time, and not a thousand (that should be easy)–and the right information that should accompany that product image–its caption, its size, its format, and so on.
  2. The content must be available in the right format. If you think about it for a moment, this likely means that the content is potentially available in many formats, given the different needs, systems, and platforms of different users and systems. When I see a requirement for content to be available in many formats, I immediately think of a media-neutral format that can, in turn, create all the necessary required formats. In the world of text, this often leads organizations to consider using something like the eXtensible Markup Language (XML); in the world of images, this might mean storing the image files in a high-resolution, high-fidelity format that can then be used to create every other format of the drawing that might be required.
  3. The content must be searchable, either by itself or by virtue of closely associated metadata. If the content is text, the text should be searchable, and the more structured and fielded the text, the more it avails itself of search technology. It if is graphics or other formats, it should be in open readable formats where possible and not in opaque binary formats. If it must be in binary formats, it should always be accompanied by metadata that helps explain what the content is, what format it is in, what subject matter it deals with, and so on.

There are more requirements, to be sure, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind. It’s also important to note these are merely technical requirements for the content, and don’t go to the more fundamental questions of precisely what kind of content your users need are requesting.

Tuning in to Web 2.0: The SafariU Channel

Hopefully some of you tuned in to our webinar yesterday and have had a chance to read the companion whitepaper. My radio theme – or podcast if you are so inclined – for the title of this blog is intentional. In fact, I also toyed with “Mixing Content and Web 2.0” to illustrate “the remix factor” — an intrinsic part of the Web 2.0 “engaging the user” vision and one of the reasons why professors call O’Reilly Media’s SafariU “revolutionary.”

Remixing. Familiar to your teenagers and made famous by iTunes, but not a word well known in corporate circles. Using Web services and MarkLogic Server, O’Reilly delivers a user interface that allows higher education professors to reassemble – or remix – sections and chapters from a vast library of O’Reilly and partner books to, in CJ’s words, suit their needs. Suit their needs. Since when do software applications suit the user needs without the word “customization” being part of the equation?

In terms of content applications and Web 2.0, since now. Is this analogous to the radio industry’s evolution? Absolutely. Can it provide new revenue for publishers through a compelling product? Definitely. Ian Krantz over at the Really Strategies blog continues the conversation. And CJ Rayhill , O’Reilly’s Chief Information Officer and General Manager of O’Reilly’s Education Division, is obviously the source.

Yesterday, the webinar audience asked me what parts of the SafariU story are universally applicable. Read on to see what I said. Also, feel free to submit questions and comments here about what you read and hopefully listened to about the SafariU case study. (I will let you know when the archive is available). Let’s continue the conversation!

What O’Reilly success factors are universal?

“When the Gilbane team evaluates a customer story as a potential CTW case study, we specifically look for elements of the deployment that would benefit other adopters of content technologies. So, how can we generalize O’Reilly success? Here are a few key factors that are universal.

First, we could not agree more with the Web 2.0 principle that — Data (including O’Reilly’s atomized content term — is the next Intel Inside. Having spent over 20 years researching and writing about content technologies, The Gilbane Report has consistently focused on how content technology can be used for enterprise business applications and how content and computing will evolve. Today, the power of “content as a corporate asset” is clearly one of the success factors for a myriad of business applications, commercial products, and community and government services. The same can be said for the rising intersection between content, collaboration and community – technology is enabling it and SafariU has clearly delivered it.

Secondly, as XML enjoys its eighth birthday this month, its application to gold source content is evident throughout many industries. Although regularly applied to data exchange during its first five years, it is the more recent years that demonstrate the value of content intelligence, flexibility, and reuse as enabled by XML and sister standards like XQuery. This value is reaping significant ROI for those making the commitment and investment.

Finally, O’Reilly’s is engaging their customers in new ways while simultaneously delivering strategic improvements to higher education. Their approach demonstrates the power of CJ’s infrastructure quote when describing Mark Logic Server, which gives O’ Reilly the power to single source both their content and infrastructure expand into higher education today, and more verticals in the near future. These are universal factors that you can take back as input to your own content strategies.” Leonor Ciarlone

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