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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