Many publishers have struggled to deliver their content in an ever-growing range of formats as the number of platforms and operating systems used by readers continues to proliferate. The only practical, efficient approach is to operate a single, platform-neutral, workflow. Wherever possible, processes should be automated and metadata is a vital tool in facilitating this.
Most of us are familiar with metadata, or ‘data about data’. For a quick example, right-click on any file on your PC and view the ‘Properties’. Judi Vernau, of Metataxis, gave some useful examples of its uses and points to consider. In addition to source and physical properties properties (format, size, colour space), metadata should also describe components for
- findability (filter/content type/topic);
- to monitor usage; and
- to create relationships.
Using standard metadata formats will make it easier to use and to share content, internally and externally. XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) is a subset of the original SGML (Standard Generalised Mark-up Language) and recognised as the standard for metadata, though there are more specialised subsets, including XHTML, Prism and Docbook. Several speakers recommended DITA, which seems destined to become the publishing standard. These tags are best applied at source, though there is understandably resistance from writers, so some publishers see this as part of the editorial production workflow. One speaker suggested encouraging writers to apply styles in MSWord, effectively tagging content with negligible overhead.
Reuse of content
In order to exploit opportunities to reuse content, it needs to be metadata-rich, with a good taxonomy. Questions to ask include:
- Do you own the rights to reuse the content?
- Is the content searchable by the old metadata in its new context?
- Is the content modular?
- Is the content still current?
- Is the content editorially and stylistically appropriate in its new context?
Noz Urbina, of Mekon, gave a good introduction to this subject. XML enables publishers to exploit dynamic content solutions – in other words, publications created on the fly, according to the user’s attributes, history, location, preferences and by taxonomy-based relationships (e.g. Amazon learns what you and others like you are interested in and suggests products accordingly). It is possible to integrate content services such as financial databases and news tickers into apps and digital editions. Related links and advertising may be changed according to location, for example: “Did you know that Pete’s Pizza is just around the corner?”
The UK Hydrographic Office used to publish a series of 100-page books on global shipping routes, which have now migrated into a dynamic, digital, format. There is now a link from this content to physical features in a geospatial database and the data is always the latest available. (No ads for Pete’s Pizza, though.)
High-tech manufacturers host content from partners, official technical comms, users, product updates and customer notices, which needs to be accessible by engineers, field engineers and customers. This too is best delivered in a dynamic process. In a socially-enabled, customised scenario, users would be able to bookmark this content, join page discussions, make comments and generate a pdf from dynamic data for download to a Kindle or iPad. This extra functionality gives new uses and extra value to the data and competitive advantage to the publisher.
‘Folksonomy‘ was new to me. Noz explained that taxonomy describes the publisher’s formal categorisation of their content, but users apply their own tags, or folksonomy, to user-generated content. Publishers need to monitor these and either incorporate them into their own taxonomy, or see them as indicators of gaps in their own content generation. UGC must also be vetted, validated, guided and editorialised.
‘Magalogues‘ are thriving in Germany and Thorsten Hamann, of Werk II, described how publishers are keen to exploit their content and allow it to be republished by retailers, leading to a hybrid product that blurs the lines between publishing and retail. He also argued that, in a world where digital content is cheap and ubiquitous, printed brochures occupy a luxury niche.
Traditional publishers will resent the fact that they are no longer in the driving seat in this new, digital world. Their businesses must transform themselves into software houses, managed by professionals with appropriate skills and experience. When an organisation’s entire future depends on the successful development and roll-out of a new delivery platform, a series of apps, or an automated workflow, it must be driven by experts at the highest level. As I mentioned in my last post, content may no longer be king. It is only one component in the recipe for a successful business in this new environment.
There will need to be radical changes to the roles of editors, sub-editors, writers, art and production teams. There will be new positions, too, in rights management, analytics, social engagement, developers, cross-media marketeers, taxonomists and so on.
While the digital world threatens long-standing business models and positions within them, there are new opportunities for automation, repurposing of content, new revenue streams and new roles to be defined and developed. Publishers must not underestimate the advantage they have over new start-ups, but they have to think differently, invest in training and development and not be afraid to copy good ideas from other sectors.