The Pull of Content Value

Traditionally, publishing is a pushy process. When I have something to say, I write it down. Perhaps I revise it, check with colleagues, and verify my facts with appropriate authorities. Then I publish it, and move on to the next thing – without directly interacting with my audience and stakeholders. Whether I distribute the content electronically or in a hard copy format, I leave it to my readers to determine the value of whatever I publish.

However, as we describe in our recently completed report Smart Content in the Enterprise, XML applications can transform this conventional publishing paradigm. By smart content, we mean content that is granular at the appropriate level, semantically rich, useful across applications, and meaningful for collaborative interaction.

From a business perspective, smart content adds value to published information in new and compelling ways. Let’s consider the experiences of NetApp and Warrior Gateway, two of the organizations featured in our report.

NetApp
As a provider of storage and data management solutions, NetApp has invested a lot of time and effort embracing DITA and restructuring its technical documentation. By systematically tagging and managing content components, and by focusing on the underlying content development processes, writers and editors can keep up with the pace of product releases.

But there is more to this publishing process orientation. Beyond simply producing product information faster and cheaper, NetApp is poised to make publishing better. The company can now easily support its reseller partners by providing them with the DITA tagged content that they can directly incorporate into their own OEM solutions. Resellers’ customers get just the information they need, directly from the source. With its XML application, NetApp incorporates its partners and stakeholders into its information value chain.

Warrior Gateway
As a content aggregator, Warrior Gateway collects, organizes, enriches, and redistributes content about a wide range of health, welfare, and veteran-related services to soldiers, veterans, and their families. Rather than simply compiling an online catalog of service providers’ listings, Warrior Gateway restructures the content that government, military, and local organizations produce, and enriches it by adding veteran-related categories and other information. Furthermore, Warrior Gateway adds a social dimension by encouraging contributions from veterans and family members.

Once stored within the XML application powering Warrior Gateway, the content is easily reorganized and reclassified to provide the veterans’ perspective about areas of interest and importance. Volunteers working with Warrior Gateway can add new categories when necessary. Service providers can claim their profile and improve their own data details. Even the public users can contribute to content to the gateway, a crowd sourcing strategy to efficiently collect feedback from users. With contributions from multiple stakeholders, the published listings can be enriched over time without requiring a large internal staff to add the extra information.

Capturing New Business Value
There’s a lot more detail about how the XML applications work in our case studies – I recommend that you check them out.

What I find intriguing is the range of promising and potentially profitable business models engendered by smart content.  Enterprise publishers have new options and can go beyond simply pushing content through a publishing process. Now they can build on their investments, and capture the pull of content value.

E-Reader Devices in Flux, But So What?

Repeat after us: What happens to specific devices or formats, such as Kindle or the iPad, will not be a significant factor for book publishers.

The title of this blog is taken from a sub-section heading in out Industry Forecast chapter in our just published 277-page study, A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing, as is the quote above.

We’ve been following ebook efforts for well over a decade, and for some of us, thinking back to CD-ROM or the Gutenberg Project , the timeline is deeper yet. I mention this perhaps to excuse some of our assumptions going into the work of the Blueprint study, which was that many book publishers remained nervous about participating in ebooks because of the uncertainty about ebook formats among their potential customers, themselves, and, indeed, the market at large. We were, largely, wrong.

For one thing, a good part of book publishers—even trade—are already working with XML.  Here’s a quote from the new study:

There will remain plenty of help for book publishers to deal with the format flux, and, as book publishers move more completely into digital workflow—and especially grow in sophistication in regard to XML content format within editorial and production processes—the difficulties to meet specific output format demands will ease.

 Overall, we have come to understand that the convergence of functionality supporting enhanced ebooks among general-purpose mobile communications and computing devices, along with emerging standards for display, sale, and distribution of ebook titles, will also make platform issues for digital publishers largely moot. Recent announcements of new tablet devices, such as those by Samsung, which projects 11 million unit sales in 2011, simply expand market numbers rather than confuse markets. That is, if, as a book publisher, you handle your content in a way that can be created once and used in many ways.

To be clear (as we hope the following quote from the study is):

…book publishers should involve XML formats as early in the publishing process as possible. We are convinced ebook formats will evolve and change, and new ones will emerge. XML stands today as the one standard format that will enable publishers to best create, manage, and curate content over time. Moreover, the future will expand how XML and metadata can support strong integration among the various publishing processes within the publisher’s own work.

 As per our agreement with the sponsors of the Blueprint study, the sponsors have a 30-day exclusive distribution for the study, and Blueprint won’t be available through Gilbane.com for a few weeks yet.  We’ll be posting announcements from the study sponsors , providing download links as we get them.

LinkedIn Signal Demonstrates The Power of Role-Based Activity Stream Filters

LinkedIn today announced Signal, a new feature (currently in beta) that lets members see an activity stream that combines LinkedIn status updates and Twitter posts from other members who have opted-in to the feature. LinkedIn has licensed the Twitter firehose to incorporate all of its members’ tweets into the site, not just tweets with the #in hashtag embedded, as is current practice.

While it is hard to imagine anyone other than corporate and independent talent recruiters will make LinkedIn their primary Twitter client, Signal does have an element that is worthy of emulation by other social networks and enterprise social software providers that incorporate an activity stream (and which of those does not these days!) That feature is role-specific filters.

I wrote previously in this post about the importance of providing filters with which individuals can narrow their activity stream. I also noted that the key is to understand which filters are needed by which roles in an organization. LinkedIn apparently gets this, judging by the screenshot pictured below.

LinkedIn Signal screenshot courtesty of TechCrunch

Notice the left-hand column, labeled "Filter by". LinkedIn has most likely researched a sample of its members to determine which filters would be most useful to them. Given that recruiters are the most frequent users of LinkedIn, the set of filters displayed in the screenshot makes sense. They allow recruiters to see tweets and LinkedIn status updates pertaining to LinkedIn members in specific industries, companies, and geographic regions. Additionally, the Signal stream can be filtered by strength of connection in the LinkedIn network and by post date.

The activity stream of every enterprise social software suite (ESS) should offer such role-based filters, instead of the generic ones they currently employ. Typical ESS filtering parameters include individuals, groups or communities, and workspaces. Some vendors offer the ability to filter by status as a collaborator on an object, such as a specific document or sales opportunity. A few ESS providers allow individuals to create custom filters for their activity stream. While all of these filters are helpful, they do not go far enough in helping individuals narrow the activity stream to view updates needed in a specific work context.

The next logical step will be to create standard sets of role-based filters that can be further customized by the individuals using them. Just as LinkedIn has created a filter set that is useful to recruiters, ESS providers and deploying organizations must work together to create valuable filter sets for employees performing specific jobs and tasks. Doing so will result in increased productivity from, and effectiveness of, any organization’s greatest asset – it’s people.

How Smart Content Aids Distributed Collaboration

Authoring in a structured text environment has traditionally been done with dedicated structured editors. These tools enable validation and user assisted markup features that help the user create complete and valid content. But these structured editors are somewhat complicated and unusual and require training in their use for the user to become proficient. The learning curve is not very steep but it does exist.

Many organizations have come to see documentation departments as a process bottleneck and try to engage others throughout the enterprise in the content creation and review processes. Engineers and developers can contribute to documentation and have a unique technical perspective. Installation and support personnel are on the front lines and have unique insight into how the product and related documentation is used. Telephone operators not only need the information at their fingertips, but can also augment it with comments and ides that occur while supporting users. Third-party partners and reviewers may also have a unique perspective and role to play in a distributed, collaborative content creation, management, review, and delivery ecosystem.

Our recently completed research on XML Smart Content in the Enterprise indicates that as we strive to move content creation and management out of the documentation department silo, we will also need to consider how the data is encoded and the usefulness of the data model in meeting our expanded business requirements. Smart content is multipurpose content designed with several uses in mind. Smart content is modular to support being assembled in a variety of forms. And smart content is structured content that has been enriched with semantic information to better identify it’s topic and role to aide processing and searching. For these reasons, smart content also improves distributed collaboration. Let me elaborate.

One of the challenges for distributed collaboration is the infrequency of user participation and therefore, unfamiliarity with structured editing tools. It makes sense to simplify the editing process and tools for infrequent users. They can’t always take a refresher course in the editor and it’s features. They may be working remotely, even on a customer site installing equipment or software. These infrequent users need structured editing tools that are designed for them. These collaboration tools need to be intuitive and easy to figure out, easily accessible from just about anywhere, and should be affordable and have flexible licensing to allow a larger number of users to participate in the management of the content. This usually means one of two things: either the editor will be a plug in to another popular word processing system (e.g., MS Word), or it will be accessed though a thin-client browser, like a Wiki editor. In some environments, it is possible that both may be need in addition to traditional structured editing tools. Smart content modularity and enrichment allows flexibility in editing tools and process design. This allows the  use of a variety of editing tools and flexibility in process design, and therefore expanding who can collaborate from throughout the enterprise.

Also, infrequent contributors may not be able to master navigating and operating within a  complex repository and workflow environment either for the same familiarity reasons. Serving up information to a remote collaborator might be enhanced with keywords and other metadata that is designed to optimize searching and access to the content. Even a little metadata can provide a lot of simplicity to an infrequent user. Product codes, version information, and a couple of dates would allow a user to hone in on the likely content topics and select content to edit from a well targeted list of search results. Relationships between content modules that are indicated in metadata can alert a user that when one object is updated, other related objects may need to be reviewed for potential update as well.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no one model for XML or smart content creation and editing. Just as a carpenter may have several saws, each designed for a particular type of cut, a robust smart content structured content environment may have more than one editor in use. It behooves us to design our systems and tools to meet the desired business processes and user functionality, rather than limit our processes to the features of one tool.

Book Publishers: Stick to Your Knitting

A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing, The Gilbane Group’s Publishing Practice latest study, is due out any day now. One thing about the study that sets it apart from other ebook-oriented efforts is that Blueprint describes technologies, processes, markets, and other strategic considerations from the book publisher’s perspective. From the Executive Summary of our upcoming study:

For publishers and their technology and service partners, the challenge of the next few years will be to invest wisely in technology and process improvement while simultaneously being aggressive about pursuing new business models.
 

The message here is that book publishers really need to “stick to their knitting,” or, as we put it in the study:

The book publisher should be what it has always best been about—discovering, improving, and making public good and even great books.  But what has changed for book publishers is the radically different world in which they interact today, and that is the world of bits and bytes: digital content, digital communication, digital commerce.

If done right, today’s efforts toward digital publishing processes will “future proof” the publisher, because today’s efforts done right are aimed at adding value to the content in media neutral, forwardly compatible forms.

A central part of the “If done right” message is that book publishers still should focus on what publishers do with content, but that XML workflow has become essential to both print and digital publishing success. Here’s an interesting finding from Blueprint:

Nearly 48% of respondents say they use either an “XML-First” or “XML-Early” workflow.  We define an XML-First workflow as one where XML is used from the start with manuscript through production, and we define an “XML-Early” workflow as one where a word processor is used by authors, and then manuscript is converted to XML.”

Tomorrow, Aptara and The Gilbane Group are presenting a webinar, eBooks, Apps and Print? How to Effectively Produce it All Together, with myself and Bret Freeman, Digital Publishing Strategist, Aptara. The webinar takes place on Tuesday, September 28, 2010, at 11 a.m., EST, and you can register here.
 

Smart Content and the Pull of Search Engine Optimization

One of the conclusions of our report Smart Content in the Enterprise (forthcoming next week) is how a little bit of enrichment goes a long way. It’s important to build on your XML infrastructure, enrich your content a little bit (to the extent that your business environment is able to support), and expect to iterate over time.

Consider what happened at Citrix, reported in our case study Optimizing the Customer Experience at Citrix: Restructuring Documentation and Training for Web Delivery. The company had adopted DITA for structured publishing several years ago. Yet just repurposing the content in product manuals for print and electronic distribution, and publishing the same information as HTML and PDF documents, did not change the customer experience.

A few years ago, Citrix information specialists had a key insight: customers expected to find support information by googling the web. To be sure, there was a lot of content about various Citrix products out in cyberspace, but very little of it came directly from Citrix. Consequently the most popular solutions available via web-wide searching were not always reliable, and the detailed information from Citrix (buried in their own manuals) was rarely found.

What did Citrix do? Despite limited resources, the documentation group began to add search metadata to the product manuals. With DITA, there was already a predefined structure for topics, used to define sections, chapters, and manuals. Authors and editors could simply include additional tagged metadata that identified and classified the contents – and thus expose the information to Google and other web-wide search engines.

Nor was there a lot of time or many resources for up-front design and detailed analysis. To paraphrase a perceptive information architect we interviewed, “Getting started was a lot like throwing the stuff against a wall to see what sticks.” At first tags simply summarized existing chapter and section headings. Significantly, this was a good enough place to start.

Specifically, once Citrix was able to join the online conversation with its customers, it was also able to begin tracking popular search terms. Then over time and with successive product releases, the documentation group was able to add additional tagged metadata and provide ever more focused (and granular) content components.

What does this mean for developing smart content and leveraging the benefits of XML tagging? Certainly the more precise your content enrichment, the more findable your information is going to be. When considering the business benefits of search engine optimization, the quality of your tagging can always improve over time. But as a simple value proposition, getting started is the critical first step.

Early Access to Gilbane’s XML Report

If you’ve been reading our recent posts on Gilbane’s new research on XML adoption, you might be wondering how to get the report in advance of its availability from Gilbane later this month.

Smart Content in the Enterprise: How Next Generation XML Applications Deliver New Value to Multiple Stakeholders is currently offered by several of the study sponsors: IBM, JustSystems, MarkLogic, MindTouch, Ovitas, Quark, and SDL.

We’ll also be discussing our research in real time during a webinar hosted by SDL on November 4. Look for details within the next few weeks.

New Paper – Looking at Website Governance

I am delighted that I’ve just completed my first solo paper here as an analyst: Looking Outside the CMS Box for Enterprise Website Governance. I say solo, but I ought to start by saying I’m grateful for having had a great deal of support from Mary Laplante as my reform from vendor to analyst continues. 

This paper has allowed me to pick at a subject that I’ve long had in the back of my mind, both in terms of CMS product strategy and of what we, as content management professionals, need to be cognizant of as we get swept up in engaging web experiences – that of corporate content governance. 

When I write and talk about web engagement or the web experience, I often refer to the first impression – that your website meets all of your audience, prospects, customers or citizens. They don’t all see your shiny headquarters building, meet the friendly receptionist or see that you have todays copy of The Times on the coffee table – but they do see your website. 

Mistakes such as a misspelling, an outdated page or a brand inconsistency all reflect badly on your attention to detail. This tarnishes the professionalism of your services, the reliability of your products, and attention you will pay to meeting consumer needs.

Of course, when those lapses are related to compliance issues (such as regulatory requirements and accessibility standards), they can be even more damaging, often resulting in financial penalties and a serious impact on your reputation.

I see this governance as the foundation for any content driven business application, but in this paper we focus on website governance and aim to answer the following questions:

  • What are the critical content governance risks and issues facing the organization? 
  • Is your CMS implementation meeting these challenges? 
  • What solutions are available to address governance needs that are not addressed by CMS? 

The paper is  now available for download from our Beacon library page and from Magus, who sponsored it.

Magus are also presenting business seminars on website governance and compliance  on October 12 in Washington, DC, and October 14 in New York. My colleague Scott Liewehr will be presenting at those events, drawing on the analysis in the Beacon as part of that seminar program. You can learn more about those events and register on the Magus website.