Content Fidelity

Years ago, a friend described his sister’s job hunt. He chuckled as he told me that she didn’t get any callbacks after distributing about 40 copies of her résumé and,  “She said it’s my fault.”

I asked, “Why is that your fault?”

He replied “Because I told her that she should use Quark to make it more appealing. I told her how she  could add graphics and make the type look nice and she was all over it.”

For those who aren’t familiar with it Quark (Quark Xpress) is a layout and typesetting program that dominated the publishing and advertising industries for many years before the rise of Adobe’s InDesign (the successor to Pagemaker).

“Why is that your fault that she doesn’t have a job?” I asked.

“Because, there was a mistake in the Quark version that wasn’t in the original,” he responded.

Ah, few things are more disheartening to young person seeking to start a career than realization of an error on a résumé.

“You mean she made a typo? I remember completing a rez on a typewriter and sending it out all over the damn country and I discovered later I had misspelled “liaison” and I freaked out. Did you show her how to spell-check in Quark?” I said.

“Yeah, she spell-checked it, but that didn’t help her.”

“Did she use the wrong word in a sentence?”

“No, guess again.”

The suspense was killing me,  “No, tell me I give up.”

He started laughing–that heaving, teary-eyed, snotty-nosed laughter–as he told about the line in the original copy of the rez, in which his sister referenced a summer job at their hometown’s library and the line in the Quark version. In her original document, she described how she: “Executed children’s learning programs…”

The Quark incarnation read: “Executed children.”

OUCH! Hard to imagine that any amount of graphics or typography would overcome that. I would have curled up in a fetal position and not left the house for weeks (OK months).

She shook off the initial embarrassment, corrected the error and sent out another wave of résumés. She landed a job just a few weeks later.

I don’t remember if my friend’s sister had re-typed the content into the Quark document or she had pasted it there. Regardless of how it got there, she had a content-fidelity problem, in which there was a major discrepancy between the two versions of her résumé.

Content-fidelity errors like this happen with incalculable frequency in organizations, both large and small. Everyone makes typos (or “copy-os” or “paste-os”). Sometimes they are caught in QA, other times they are not. Some errors are minor embarrassments, some are damaging to a company’s reputation.

Some are expensive to fix.

Some will get you sued.

Years ago, the technical communications sector recognized the risks of recreating content , thus developed  single-source, intelligent content architectures to allow for content to be created once and automatically expressed in multiple channels. Perhaps the best part is that when mistakes are identified they can be fixed in a single location and automatically updated across all content products within the organization.

If your organization habitually recreates content, or pays exorbitant fees for outsourced content creation, you may want to reconsider your content processes. There are numerous resources that will describe single-source, intelligent content, but I think  this  book is a good place to start.

Moving to an intelligent content framework requires a commitment to change and change is hard. Though allowing your competitors to make the change before you do will be even harder.

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Reducing Your Brand Security Risk

Intelligent Content
Structured-content authoring (“intelligent content”) is a well-established practice in industries such as aerospace, pharma, intelligence, and medical device manufacturing. In this type of architecture, content is not managed as documents, or web pages, but as reusable modules. These modules  can  be dynamically assembled and delivered (as a Word/PDF file or a Web page) at  the moment of consumption. This ensures that the text-based content is current and consistent among all publication channels.

Recently, there has been a concerted effort by some of the big names in technical communications to evangelize these modular-content strategies in non-traditional areas such as marketing. This is way overdue. The modular-content architecture and XML-based technology that have proven successful in TechComm have merit in MarComm, where there is no shortage of repeatable content.

Your Brand Security Risk

The industries that gravitated toward modular content designs did so  for several reasons. Atop the list: content that was inconsistent (thus confusing or contradictory) presented a security risk. Ensuring the consistency among all publication channels, is the best way to mitigate this risk.

I realize that not every industry is like aerospace or intelligence, but all organizations are  deeply concerned with their brand. Text-based and visual content that is inconsistent among channels is  not only confusing, it also dilutes your organization’s brand. What is the cost of recreating a  logo, because you can’t find the original?  Or the cost of discovering that your company founder’s name  is misspelled in dozens of locations throughout your public-facing sites?

If your logos, slogans, or mission statements are inconsistent, you have created  brand security risk. What is the cost of that?

Creating Content is (T0o) Easy

To many people the term  “content” refers to  formatted text with inserted graphics created by a word processor, publishing program or Web editor.  For decades, tools like Word, InDesign (Pagemaker), Dreamweaver, etc.  have offered a convenient means to create content quickly. If we need to move a large portion of content, we can copy and paste into its new location, or 10 or 12 locations. If a document needs be visible in multiple repositories, it’s easy enough to copy it, or e-mail it to somebody who can upload to the required places.

Content Reuse or Content Recreation?

Though when (“when” not “if”)  the content becomes outdated, do you know whose  job it is to remember those 10 or 12 locations, three months or two years from now? Or if your contacts retire, or go on vacation, do you know who has access to all those repositories where the documents were uploaded? If  disclaimer copy changes on a whole product line, will you be able to track down all the packaging, advertising, and web sites where it appears?

If you can’t find content, who will recreate it? If a vendor recreates it, whose budget pays for their time? When you recreate content, are you a little anxious that it might not be accurate? You should be.

If content has to be recreated, because it can’t be found, which account executive is going to tell the client that it has to be recreated. My suspicion is none of them, it’s likely that your company is  going to eat the cost, to fix the content, with fingers crossed, under the radar.

My assessment of most organizations, is that often project teams,  reviewing content-management platforms aren’t really aware of the whole content picture. Often  these people, who aren’t in the content trenches,  don’t have a feel for the content complexity. Because the mechanical process of creating content (typing, copying/pasting, adding an image..) is rather simplistic, isn’t it?

However, that ignores the whole arduous process:  strategy, original photography and talent fees,  writing (not typing), illustration, design, quality assurance, customer approval….

A Single Source of Mistakes

In a recent post,   I wrote  that a downside of digital content production is that while we can make content faster than ever, we can make mistakes faster than ever,  too.  The Internet ensures that we can share our mistakes with the whole world.

In the content management industry, you will often hear the term “a single source of truth,” meaning that content objects are stored in a centralized repository and expressed in multiple channels throughout the organization. This  “create once publish everywhere” (COPE)  model may sound cool,  but do your organization’s (or client’s)   decision makers really see the utility of this? Really?

If they don’t , they not might be  aware of the costs or risks associated with  recreating content. If they aren’t, perhaps the value of such an architecture to them is the rapid response to incorrect, or outdated content.  Don’t be shy about sharing horror stories, like the time that an art director recreated a one-word  banner ad and misspelled the one word and the mistake was caught the client’s CEO. Or the time that an IT manager sent a company history by email to a consultant and a misspelling of the founder’s name was published in dozens of places.  (Both of these examples actually happened during my previous engagements).

Mistakes are going to happen. Though we can make fewer mistakes by focusing on CREATING and REUSING content rather than RECREATING content. With a single-source content strategy you  can respond quickly when mistakes are discovered: revising content in one place that will  updated everywhere you had published it.

Your ultimate goal: to  have a single source of your mistakes (that’s not as weird as it sounds). We won’t ever eliminate mistakes completely (though isn’t it pretty to think so?). However, a single-source content strategy will ensure that you can correct your mistakes quickly  and completely.

The underlying problem with discussions of single source ‘content ” is that there are many different content types and they have different management and delivery needs. There are no platforms that will handle all of them, at least none that will handle them all well.

Digital Mastery

Photographs and digital illustrations  have  resolution (dots-per-inch) and color model needs  that are very different in print than they are screen-based vehicles such as  tablets or phones. Yet, the print, broadcast and web  versions of an image can all be derived from the same source file, commonly known as “the digital master.”  A digital master file should be composed of sufficient individual colors (millions) and resolution (100’s of dots per inch) such it can be down sampled into print- and screen-appropriate formats. The practice and technology associated with management of these rich media files is known as “digital asset management” or “DAM”.

(If there is nothing else that you take away from this post, you should start using “DAM” as an adjective–That DAM software, The DAM server–because it’s awesome. Use the term early and often: throughout the whole DAM project, and into DAM operational phase.)

Content LEGOS

In technical communication circles, practitioners adopted  intelligent content that was component-based. In such an architecture each of these  content components  can stand on its own, but are designed to be joined with other components (like so many content LEGO blocks).

Think of repeatable content “chunks” throughout your organization. It’s likely that in your current systems, to update one word or letter in your disclaimers, (company history, mission statement…) you would have to open many documents, and web sites to make a   slight change throughout your content collections.

This type of content management is a bit more esoteric than DAM, but “component content management systems” (CCMS) have been commonplace in the tech communication for some time. There are well-established architectures that facilitate the granular-level management of text content, most notably, DITA, a framework developed by IBM to address their own content reuse challenges.

DAM and CCMS are both mature disciplines, but neither by itself will be able to help to eliminate your brand security risk.

Be The Change

As stated above structured text-based content and image-based content have very different management and delivery needs. There are products and consultants that are capable of addressing single-source design and delivery of rich media and others that are savvy in the architecture of component-level content management systems. However, in the interest of brand security there needs to more cooperative efforts  between these two camps.

In my opinion, recent efforts by the technical communications titans to move into non-traditional areas such as marketing, and corporate communications will have only limited success until some of the channel-specific issues  for rich media are addressed.

In short,  there needs to be better interoperability between these two types of platforms  DAM industry and those in the CCMS space. (See? ‘CCMS’ not nearly as fun to say as ‘DAM’). Such innovations might come from the software or consulting industries, but fastest path to industry-wide innovation is demand from the customers.

If you are evaluating DAM or CCMS for the first time, or seeking to replace your incumbent platforms, ask the companies on your short list about their experience with integration of DAM and CCMS.  At the proof-of concept stage ask them again, and compel them to prove their claims, or to provide you with a clear plan on how they would approach such an integration.

These platform integrations, and vendor partnerships will be slow to happen without your persistence efforts to ensure your own brand security.

 

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The Magic Circle Meeting: The Path Toward Funnification

There is no shortage of  blog posts, articles, (and other collections of vowels and consonants) that attempt to tie a current event (celebrity death, or a movie release….) to some sort of business problem as if this random event can solve the problem.

The headline is usually along the lines of this format:

What Star Wars (Yogi Berra, Leonard Nimoy…) Can Teach Us About Commodities Trading (Integrated Marketing, Employee Retention, Student Engagement…)

There are so many articles of this type, with their faint whiff of click bait, that I hesitated to even think about that format.  Yet this morning, I was pondering alternative meeting formats when I read of the death of Meadowlark Lemon, who for a generation (and then some)  was the face of the Harlem Globetrotters.

I am not going to pretend that my feelings  on the death of a basketball/comedic icon somehow has significant  relevance in the solution of your organization’s challenges.

However, I think we  all agree these two universal truths: everybody likes the Globetrotters, nobody like meetings.   This begs the question:, wouldn’t employee  meetings be more fun if they began with a Magic Circle?

Don’t forget  golden-throated announcer with introductions:  “And now……your Chief Executive Officer…..”  Even better  if  your C-level executives had nicknames like “Slingshot” “Spider” and “Buckets.”

And of course, somebody whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown” in the background is a welcome bonus.

In the past few years, there has been a mad-dash to gamify everything. Though these attempts rarely seem fun. How about for 2016, we strive for funnification?  It’s what Meadowlark would want.

Happy New Year and may all your hook shots in 2016 be nothing but net.

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A Friend In Need: Help for the Hamilton Family

sIn the past several years, a former colleague and software superstar Michael Hamilton has endured a series of severe medical conditions that have put his family in dire financial straits. They have lost most of their possessions including their home, cars, and family heirlooms.  They are seeking community support to help address their ever-growing medical-expense burden.

  • Michael is 55 and has worked tirelessly since the age of 11.
  • Michael and his wife, Margaret have five dependent children
  • He is a graduate of the United State Military Academy at West Point
  • Michael is very well-known in the software world. He began his career developing for early Apple platforms,  and has many years of experience as a masterclass developer and enterprise architect in the Microsoft community.
  • About five years ago, Michael was diagnosed with colon cancer and was given six months to live. His response was to work more, to ensure that his family was taken care of when he was gone ( then presumed to be a mere few weeks away).  He’s still here and still fighting.
  • For the past year, he has been saddled with debilitating pain and life-threatening infections. On multiple occasions, he barely escaped having limbs amputated.
  • While he was  confined to a hospital in Pennsylvania, where he was working on a project, his home in Michigan, and many heirlooms were seized by the bank.
  • His healthcare expenses have reached incompressible levels. For a September hospital stay, his burden was in excess of $91,000…just for his medication!
Portrait of Michael

Michael Hamilton

Not long ago a young man declared on the Internet that he only wanted “to make potato salad” and was quickly endowed with $55,000.

Certainly, there are people who  want to help Michael and his family to get back on track after a series of medical crises. If you can’t contribute financially, please share the story.

Their fundraising site and story are here.

You can also make contributions through PayPal that are accessible immediately for things  for food, prescriptions, gasoline…If you have a  PayPal account and would like to make a donation:

  1. Login into your PayPal account
  2. Go to the money transfer page
  3. Add this address: TheHamiltons@TheHamiltons.INFO
  4. Add the amount you wish to donate
  5. Click the “Send Money” button

If you have some SharePoint, .Net, Javascript or other development or enterprise architecture needs, please have a look at Michael’s deep experience.

Can you take a few moments to make help  to this military veteran and cancer survivor in anyway you can.

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Goodbye, Symbiosis

I’m not a scientist, but took some biology courses and thus, I’m qualified to be  bothered by the misuse of “symbiosis” in business communication.

I learned about symbiosis in 9th grade biology, and learned more about it in a college course “Evolution, Ecology and Behavior.”

Since then, marketing documents and web sites seem determined for me to  unlearn  the proper definition.

Symbiosis is a categorical term that encompasses concepts such as:

  • Predation– The pursuit, capture, and killing  for food.
  • Competition–The utilization of the same resources by organisms of the same or of different species living together in a community, when the resources are not sufficient to fill the needs of all the organisms
  • Parasitism–A relationship between two species of plants or animals in which one benefits at the expense of the other, sometimes without killing the host organism.
  • Amensalism–An association between organisms of two different species in which one is inhibited or destroyed and the other is unaffected.

Do any of the above relationships sound like the kind in which you’d like to enter with  a vendor, a client or a strategic partner?

“Mutualism,” is a relationship in which a benefit is realized by both parties. I think that when most  companies use the term symbiosis, this is the kind of relationship they have in mind for their external relationships.

At least I hope that is the case. We’ve all had experiences where vendors seemed to treat us as if we were a parasitic host and they were  content to suck purchase orders from our system until we financially shriveled.

It might be worth a look at your own presence in print and on the Web for the instances “symbiosis” and ask if  “mutualism” is a more appropriate term.

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Let’s Play Two

In  the fall of 1998, I looked up from my desk and was surprised to see  the Director of Operations and the Chief Financial Officer of JWT Chicago standing in my office doorway.

The Operations Director was my boss’s boss so I saw her fairly frequently on the floor, and we met a few times a year to discuss departmental budgets, employee reviews, etc.

The CFO’s presence made me raise an eyebrow. I don’t think I’d ever seen him up there on Floor 27.

Perhaps there was a question about an employee’s expense report or perhaps, or I was going to be chided (again) about using freelancers on new business pitches (which were non-billable).

I guessed it was the latter, and rehearsed my response in my head: “Everybody on staff has worked over 75 hours for three consecutive weeks, and most of them were here last Saturday AND  Sunday.  I needed to give them some relief and brought in the freelancers Monday morning….”

I figured we’d settle this in a matter of seconds, so I was stunned when they asked to close the door.

“Uh….yeah…”

“Why are they here?”  I asked myself.

Then my mind raced and suddenly I was second-guessing every decision I’d ever made in my two years with the company. Not just about freelancers and non-billable work, but about everything. Did I eat too much shrimp at a company party?  Had I ever used the last of the coffee without making a new pot?

The office security guard was not there, so that was good sign. Wasn’t it?

Then the Operations Director asked “Do you have any plans this weekend?”

“Whaaaat?”  I thought to myself, then said: “Uhmmm, tonight my girlfriend and I are going out with her work friends.”

Then she said, “How nice. What about on Saturday?”

I quietly and rapidly  was becoming livid, because I had high suspicions that there was (yet another) unannounced new business pitch that was going to consume the weekend (yet again) of my entire staff.

A few of them had tickets to Saturday’s Cubs game. Not that unusual, but the fact that Cubs were playing the Braves in the playoffs caused me to prepare to go on offense.

I was ready  to  voice my complaint that once again that somebody in account services had committed to a tight deadline on an RFP, in total disregard to my staff’s well-being.

I was prepared to march down to the presidents and/or the executive creative director’s office, though realized that this late on the Friday afternoon, they were likely already boarding their commuter trains home.

I was prepared to work, myself, but I was not  going to pretend to be happy about it. I had planned to watch the game on TV, and I knew I could that in the Art Studio during a new business pitch preparation. There would likely be beer and Thai food or pizza available, so it wouldn’t be  awful for me to work during the game.

However, given that several of employees had tickets to the game and others had plans to watch the game with friends. It would be awful of them.

I was going to draw a line: that working on the pitch by staff member would be on  strictly volunteer basis, there was not any “voluntold” scenarios. If I got in trouble for bringing in freelancers, so be it.

Finally, I answered the question. “No, I don’t have anything planned for Saturday, other than watching the Cubs game?”

I eyed the CFO…why was he here?

Then she said “Would you like to GO to the Cubs game?”

My eyes opened, as big as soup bowls. I wasn’t sure what was going on here. “It would be nice to go, but there’s no tickets available and I don’t want blow a paycheck on a scalped ticket.”

Then, she said “We have some extra tickets would you like them?”

“Uh….sure”

Then she said, “Bob can you give Scott the two extra  tickets you have.”

Finally, I understood why the CFO was there, they were his tickets.

I’m still not entirely sure why, out of the 400 or so people in the office that I was chosen for those the tickets. I had worked a lot of hours the past couple of months, but so had a lot people. My department was turning a good profit, perhaps that was the reason. Or perhaps I might have the only person who didn’t have a ticket from vendor (this was a 20th century agency after all).

Though 28 hours latter  first clutching the tickets in my hand, I found myself clutching a weather-inappropriate  pint of Old Style and nestling into a chilly seat at Wrigley Field, with my future wife, huddled around a cup hot chocolate that could not have been nearly as good as my cup of bad beer.

I was  still puzzled as to why I was there, though when I heard “Play ball!” I stopped caring.

My conclusion: they gave me the tickets  for that thing I did that time.

Barring a complete collapse, the Cubs are heading back to the playoffs, at least for a one-game showdown against the other wildcard team. But, 2015 is THE year, according to the Marty McFly Prophecy.

I am currently freelancing from my home office, thus the probability is low that some C-level executives are  going to walk into my basement with tickets to the Cubs/Pirates playoff game. However, you have until October 7th to surprise me.

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Making Your Intelligent Content Smarter

“When I first started writing this song, it was supposed to be about the future. But it took me seven years to finish it. So at best, it’s about the present.

I’m sure Jeane Dixon has days like that too.”

The above quote a introduction by  John Prine, one my favorite musicians, for  his song “Living in the Future.”

I can identify with Prine. I feel as though I have been writing this particular  blog post for about 15 years.  Ever since I first grasped the idea of component content management systems.

Admittedly, it took me quite some time to see the value of creating content as reusable chunks, rather than as whole documents. My “aha!” moment occurred when  a client provided me with her company’s  “about us”  boilerplate  for an RFP I was writing. I noticed  that one of the founder’s names was incorrect in the text that I had been provided.  My project team proofed the content and made several changes.  It was pasted into the RFP.

I had received the boilerplate info from an IT manager, who had received it from an HR contact.  Given the company’s size and international presence, there were very likely numerous instances of incorrect boilerplate info in magazines, web sites and official documents. It didn’t take much of a logical leap to realize that there was incorrect and inconsistent content chunks  all over the organization. Suddenly, the concept of single-source, component-level intelligent, content management moved  from esoteric to something that seemed like a smart thing to do.

I immediately started musing how these XML-based  frameworks for dynamic  text content could be integrated with  digital asset management systems (caution: DAM jokes ahead) that were rooted in delivery of rich media. It seemed that smart content could be made even smarter. I was convinced that this was the future of publishing content.

I’m still convinced that’s the future, I wish the future would hurry up and get here.

In The Beginning There Was Prepress..

I have been making digital content for a long time, since the previous millennium in fact. I started working in print when desktop technologies were just making  inroads into prepress and publishing.  Like just about everybody else, I started working with Web content in the  1990’s. All along, as I was surrounded by people who made stuff, I was interested in systems that would prevent people from losing the stuff they made.

In 2000, I finished up a DAM  project (DAM was still print-centric) and joined my first ” ‘content’ management” project. During the dot.com era, content management was normally referring to Web content management. Essentially, there was an interface to make HTML  pages and a means to add Web-ready graphics (72-DPI, jpg, .gif or .png files).

There  are very clear physics-based difference between  print and Web content, but they are primarily related to the resolution (DPI) and color model (RGB vs CMYK) of images.

It frustrated me (and still does)  that print and web were thought of as separate things, with separate  editorial, design and production workflows. Furthermore, it has long frustrated me that organizations spent such large volumes of money on software and implementation of these (largely unnecessarily IMHO) separate platforms.

The AcronyMs

I promise that I won’t go into an extended  jag about acronym reduction here, (mostly because I’ve done that before) but there  are numerous  “….Management….”   acronyms to offer confusion to organizations that just want to make their stuff. Here are a few:

  • DM (document management)
  • WCM (web content management)
  • DAM (digital asset management)
  • LCM (learning content management)
  • (I could go on, but I think the point has been made)

A Place For Your Stuff

You shouldn’t fixate on the acronyms. They are all managing content All you want is a place for your stuff. While every organization has some unique needs the core requirements for all “stuff” management systems could be described as  these:

  • To make stuff
  • To be able to find stuff
  • To share stuff
  • To prevent stuff from being shared with those who aren’t allowed to see your stuff.
  • To reuse stuff that is already made so it can be used to create new stuff (that can be found,  shared and protected)

If your content (aka “stuff”)  adds organizational value, it’s a “Digital Asset” If not, then it’s  a digital liability.  It’s much like that line in the George Carlin routine  “A Place For My Stuff”: “Have your ever notice how everybody else’s stuff is crap, but your crap is stuff.” (note the Carlin video has a some raw language,,,,because it’s Carlin).

Trouble In Paradise

Anybody who has been making content for a while, will know how much easier it is to make content than it was before the desktop publishing technologies surfaced in the 1980’s. I don’t think anybody wants to return to the days of pounding out text on an IBM Selectric typewriter or  running photos through  a waxing machine so they can be pasted on a composed page.

Now, we can make stuff really fast without risk of getting waxy fingers.  But what is the downside?

Well,  digital technologies allow us to make mistakes faster then ever, and you can copy your mistakes faster than ever. The Internet allows us to share our mistakes with more people than ever. 

If you can’t find previously created content, it’s easy enough to recreate it. However, then you have to repeat your entire creation and QA cycle. You’ve placed your organization at risk because there are now two versions of the same content that might not be identical. Furthermore, while the retrieval of existing content should take only seconds, or a few minutes,  recreating the content may take hours or weeks.

If you don’t know exactly where the content needs to be stored, it’s easy  to put it in a lot places on the server, or e-mail to a gaggle of your colleagues.  Do your think  you will be able to remember all the places  where you put (or sent)  all that stuff, a month from now. In a year from now?

In the absence of organizational governance, the creation of content might have become just a  little TOO  easy.

Stuff Inside of Stuff
In any organization, it’s  possible to get a handle on the all the “stuff” files.  It’s a wee bit trickier when you have “stuff inside of stuff.” For example, if you have a chunk of content (such as your organizational “boilerplate”) that has been copied and pasted into  scads of Word and InDesign documents as well as into  multiple areas on your corporate Web site and intranet portals, then finding and updating that content will be extremely difficult.

For example, if your organization has a new CEO, are you going be able find all the occurrences of your boilerplate to put her name in place of her successor?

The truth will set your free; however multiple versions of the truth will set you back.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If the thought of making a small change in dozens of places throughout your organization’s content  has made your pulse quicken, it’s probably time to consider a unified content strategy and how you make your stuff. Thankfully, there are people who can help you do that.

For decades, technical communicators have been creating content as stand-alone, discoverable,  reusable modules, rather than as whole documents. This framework is known as “intelligent content.”  

Intelligent content is  (finally) starting to make inroads into other types of content outside of technical communications, thanks to the efforts of people like Anne Rockley and Charles Cooper, who coauthored this book. I certainly recommend the  book for anybody who is, will be, or even wants to be engaged in a content strategy project.

Lately, I’ve been pondering how organizations might make intelligent content even a bit smarter by incorporating  best practices of image-repurposing into an intelligent content framework. I’ll be collecting  my thoughts on such things in a post entitled “Pure Substance.”

I’ll publish that in the future and  I’ll make sure that the future hurries up and gets here.

 

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Strong Goals & Flexible Means: What Would Dick Fosbury Do?

People in my professional circles  have most likely heard me reference the book “Teaching Every Student In the Digital Age.”  The book is about the Universal Design for Learning, an educational framework that was developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology.

I might not have mentioned the book  by name in discussions about content strategy or IT, but I’ve likely referred  certainly referred to its teachings. Specifically, people have likely   heard me reference the lesson to be learned  from a long-retired  track and field star.

I don’t recommend the book to everybody. It is a good book, but I know its contents are not relevant to everybody. I also recognize that most people are up their nostrils in a backlog of unread books, so it’s unlikely that it will read.

However, I do point most people to a specific chapter in the book because I think it is relevant to just about everybody: “Using UDL To Set Clear Goals” The key take-away in the chapter: avoid merging your goals with specific methods. This point is illustrated with the example of the “Fosbury Flop.

As the chapter states, the goal is not to jump high with a specific jumping method.  The goal is to jump high. In order to achieve the goal, the jumper will chose the most-appropriate method.

Since  watching the 1972 Summer Olympics as a kid,  I have been a track and field fan.   The mere mention of “Dick Fosbury” guaranteed a heightened level of engagement from me. For those of you that are also fans of the sport, and for of you that are not, I recommend investing a couple of minutes viewing this video regarding Fosbury’s revolutionary high jump technique.

1968 was a good year for jumping. At  Olympics in Mexico City,  Bob Beamon, of the United States won the long jump with a preternatural leap of 29 ft. 2 1/2 in. (8.9 meters). In a sport where mere fractions of an inch separate the winner from the runners up, he broke the existing world record  by nearly two feet. His jump was so far beyond  what was considered attainable at the time, the jump exceeded the capacity of the electronic measuring tape.

Beamon was one of the favorites to win the event. He won it, by a lot. It is one of the most famous moments in sports, but it was moment.

US teammate, Dick Fosbury turned the high jump world upside down, by turning himself upside down.  Unlike Beamon, he  was not expected to win the event, but he did. His then-experimental technique is now the standard approach to the high jump. Fosbury started a revolution.

In the video above, Fosbury describes his focus on the goal (to jump as high as possible), and how his technique evolved to allow him to reach his maximum jumping height. His key to his success:  his goal was firm and his method was flexible (that and a  lifetime of practice).

When you start  coupling your goals with methods (software platforms…)  you are going to put artificial constraints that will make achieving your goals more difficult. Furthermore, you are going to fuel dissension among potential collaborative partners.

Your (teaching, marketing, user-adoption…) goals should be rigid, but not so much that they can’t be revised when appropriate. The means to achieve these goals should be flexible and should, as much as possible, allow for your  learners (or customers, or your corporate intranet’s users), the autonomy to choose how they achieve these goals.

I’ve written before, on extending the principles of UDL into contexts outside of the classroom. My opinion (be it ever-so humble) is that similar strategy should be incorporated into all forms of communication. A fair question to ask when developing your content strategy, is, “What would Dick Fosbury do?”

 

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Avoiding a “Comcastic” Cloud Experience

It’s a reasonable assumption that your current cloud-based provider(s) might not always fit your organizational needs. While many services will trip all over themselves to get your “stuff” into their infrastructure, it’s a safe bet that few will offer a clear path to an exit if that time should come. Leaving a cloud-service might prove to  be an absolutely Comcastic experience for you.

Ending a relationship with a magazine publisher is fairly easy. Eventually the bothersome phone calls and direct mail pleas (“come back now and will give you 30% off your annual subscription and a tote bag”) will stop. And you’ll be free.

Breaking up with a cable TV provider is a little more difficult.  The retention reps seem to be  lot more voracious than in  most consumer spaces. You can find all sorts of articles and recorded phone conversations between customers and “Big Cable) retention reps (who I should point out are, for the most part, only doing their job).

There were a series of recorded calls in particular that got a lot of exposure and that  led to the neologism “Comcastic.” to describe a particularly awful experience with customer service.

While  it is an unpleasant experience to  terminate a cable TV (Internet)  subscription, the fact is a provider has comparatively little leverage over a customer who is committed to leaving.

With a cloud-computing provider that is not the case. They have YOUR stuff: your spreadsheets, your marketing images, your CAD drawings… If your newly appointed-CFO or recently promoted IT Director wants to bring the services back inside, you might experience some friction trying to get your stuff  back.

You may have experienced something like this Facebook if you tried to get your personal stuff several years ago. When Facebook was pretty much unopposed in the social media space, one of the many knocks against it was that a user could not easily retrieve the photos, notes and videos that it put on to their FaceBook site. Thus, it was difficult to breakup with Facebook.

Google had made several attempts at a Facebook killer over the years to little avail. In 2011, they launched Google Plus (G+) which bore a curious resemblance to Facebook, it seemed the result of “If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Look Just Like Them.” Though G+ did offer some valuable  features that Facebook didn’t including the Hangouts (video conferencing) and of course strong integration with Google Apps.

Google Plus also  offered a way to leave Google Plus. Users could export everything that they had put onto Google Plus and they use it as a backup, or to take with them. Google called this feature “Data Liberation.” It was pretty well received. It was not  too long after that Facebook provided users with the same feature. The market forces had spoken.

Organizations, large and small should address “data liberation” procedures with prospective vendors before entering into a contract. Turn-around times, professional services and storage-media costs should be addressed in the RFP.

A key question to ask: “Will my organization have its own database in the hosted environment?” If the answer is “no” then you might want to investigate alternative solutions. (Thanks to  Magan Arthur for making this excellent point to me)

You should clearly articulate your expectations for how our “stuff” (content types) and your stuff’s corresponding metadata descriptors will be provided to you if you should need to remove your stuff from the vendor’s infrastructure.

If they can’t provide assurance that would provide you all your content and metadata in a format (XML, CSV, etc.) that you can use, then you should look harder at some of the other RFP respondents.

 

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The “S” Word In My Festus Years

I’m breathless.

Not because I have made multiple ascents of the stairs cleaning my house today, but it’s because for the first time in  several years that people want  to have professional conversations without mention (or little mention)  of the “S” word: SharePoint.

Last week, I had a job interview in which the discussions were focused on my experience in: marketing, design, digital asset management, and staff leadership. Among the people I met, the talk  about SharePoint probably totaled less than 90 seconds.

Several weeks prior, I had a rather robust conversation with a prospective client about creation of a unified content strategy, whereby they might move away from creating whole documents in favor of an “intelligent content,” (modular, reusable, single-sourced). The SharePoint talk was negligible.

Other conversations have ensued about my long-standing vision of true end-to-end content management via the integration of  component content management systems (CCMS)  with digital asset management (DAM) platforms.

I’m breathless because the world has come to realize that I AM NOT A SHAREPOINT GUY!!!!

Except…… that in early 2007, after 20 years of working with Mac clients and admin. experience in AppleShare and Solaris systems, I was hired by a Microsoft parter (as Clark Kent would say, “What the…?” ). During my time with that company I installed and configured SharePoint, I branded SharePoint sites, I trained end users and administrators in Sharepoint, I provided operational support to SharePoint portals……

In the years that have ensued  I have  worked quite a bit with SharePoint doing site branding, SharePoint administration and user training. I’m currently working on a SharePoint project as a content architect.

< Heavy sigh > I guess I’m a  SharePoint guy. Even my Word Cloud thinks so:

Scott Smith's Resume Word Cloud

Yes, I do SharePoint. I will do more SharePoint. However I’ve done other things, I am doing other things, I am prepared to do other things.

At a mixer event a few weeks ago, I was recognized by a recruiter who sat at the table and said, “Hi Scott, I remember you as the SharePoint guy.” This must be how Ken Curtis felt.

Most readers probably  don’t even know who Ken Curtis is. However,  many people of a certain age ( and some habitual TV Land viewers) know who Festus Hagan is.

Festus
One of my favorite TV shows as a kid was Gunsmoke, which for many years was the longest-running entertainment series on television (it’s since been lapped by The Simpsons and others). The  stories fascinated me. I don’t know if there was anything special about the writing, but because it ran for so many years, I became very well-acquainted with the characters.

During the era I watched the show, the deputy was “Festus” a  bumpkin sidekick to Marshall Dillon (James Arness). From the opening credits I know  Festus  was played by Ken Curtis but didn’t know anything about the actor. I vaguely remember him appearing on variety shows, etc., but always in character, and in “uniform” (unshaven and slovenly dressed in cowboy hat and vest). Most of his post-Gunsmoke roles did not seem to deviate too far from the Festus character.

He seemed more entwined with a character he portrayed than any other performer. More than Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), more than Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker),   more than Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell)…

However, Ken Curtis had a rather successful career as an actor and as a singer well before being cast as Festus. He was once  the lead vocalist in the Sons of the Pioneers (a singing group that was founded by Roy Rogers). During that time, he also  performed as the  lead singer in The Tommy Dorsey Band, where he replaced a fella named Frank Sinatra.

I don’t how he felt about being known as Festus for the rest of his life. I recognize that my current SharePoint-centric period probably won’t be lifelong,  though I’m currently living in my “Festus” years; where I’m being identified by one role that I’ve performed.

I don’t mind being labeled a SharePoint guy. I just ask that it be recognized  that while I have worked in some SharePoint contexts I have worked in numerous SharePoint-free contexts, and the prospect of doing so again makes me breathless.

And remember that Festus is Ken Curtis, an actor who played many roles and had some mad singing skills:

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