My background in the web covers many areas, from front-end to back-end. I have settled on the part where the content is created, because it is such a vital part of communication, yet underserved.
We will cover three things here: A basic definition of author experience A look at the reason author experience is a business imperative, irrespective of the other value it will bring An overview of how various aspects of author experience benefit the parties involved – not just the user, but the business, the workflow, and the end user.
We’re talking about content here. So we need to discuss the content management system (CMS). With a little participation, let’s answer the most important question: what is the purpose of a CMS? Different people will give different answers, Most of them do not relate to purpose, but to function or features. Purpose is deeper than that. It answers a more fundamental question, of what problem does it solve?
Purpose is about the underlying reason for something. What are we trying to do with this thing. Yes, it stores content. It lets us manipulate it. It provides delivery of content. But what is that content for? It is communication. So the CMS’s purpose is to support communication.
We also need to identify what we mean by the term author. I use a single – simple – term, because there are many people who interact with the CMS. The term author, in the context of author experience, covers them all.
Between the CMS and the author, we have the usability of the CMS. How appropriate is the design of the CMS’s interfaces for the task of managing content? Does it fulfil its purpose of facilitating the management of communication?
Effectively, for years, (and showing my age) we’ve been speeding down the information superhighway, intent on reaching our destination: the end user, the audience. In that headlong rush to deliver the message, to make it fun to consume, we have ignored the people who create it. We need an onramp to the information superhighway.
The communication process is about getting knowledge and meaning from one person to another. It is a two-part process, in that the communicator takes an idea and wraps it up a way that conveys the message. The communicatee then interprets that message, to extract the meaning. (Two-way communication is repeated flipping of this process.) With speech and acting, this is straightforward.
When we have non-real-time communication – basically writing and its derivatives – we have to formally break those step down. We see that we have three elements, rather than two. The message is crafted, stored, and retrieved. In the early days, we would write on some medium. The crafting created the storage format, and it was read directly from the same. Moving to digital, the same process persisted, but with a slight twist. Because we were working with data, we could consider what would be the best output format. This told us how we would deliver, and given that we were working on a single channel, we might as well store in that same output format (because it’s faster to deliver). Asnd while we are at it, if we know how we are going to store the content, we might as well craft it directly in that same format.
But… as we move towards a world where multi-channel communication is expected, where omni-channel is the real way to go (and without going into the differentiation), we realise that we are not outputting to one format. We are outputting to several formats. And there is no single underlying structure that they all use. We must have a translation layer between our storage and our content delivery. We must have well-structured content in our storage environment, that is capable of being transformed into the wide variety of channel formats we need today, and the myriad we will want tomorrow.
With adaptive-optimised storage, we run into a problem. We can no longer craft that content in its stored format. It’s messy. It’s granularly chunked. It supports lots of contextual switches. We need a further translation layer between the authoring environment, the content management interfaces, and the storage. To manage content for multi- and onmi-channel use, we must have a good author experience.
And even if all you want is to serve your content to a single web channel, you can’t afford to use the old models that don’t help the author. For your content to be well referenced, to be contextually findable, it needs to be semantic. This means marking it up with schema.org references. Now, I am a pedant. But even I find all these itemprops and itemscopes to be onerous. Without a good author experience, your content won’t be semantically identified, so will lose out in search to other content that is.
And finally, let’s look at various aspects of author experience, the features and benefits that come from paying attention to why we are communicating, and ensuring the tools help the authors do this properly. This list is not perfect. There are dependencies and consequences between the items I chose. And I am measuring only whether there is impact, not how large that impact is. So first, the benefactors. We will look at this from the perspective of four entities: The authors themselves The business The workflow process The end users The distinction between business and workflow is between financial benefits, and process benefits.
While holistic systems aren’t a prerequisite for basic AX, they are a natural evolution of structured content.
A holistic system looks at the business-wide data and content landscape. It puts responsibility for data and content where it belongs, then reuses it,. This means it becomes one system, as defined by the mechanisms and protocols used to exchange content between sub-systems. The system is defined not by the inner workings of any one box, but by the shared language all parts use to communicate with each other, effortlessly. The end user (outermost ring) benefits from the overall holistic system in that content propagates in a timely manner. The author benefits from accessibility to the information from other parts of the organisation being readily available to integrate (without duplication).
Because it is aimed at ensuring clean multi-channel publishing, a good author experience must include full content decoupling.
That content is not coupled to presentation benefits the end user, especially as it is then fundamentally accessible. It is also – as covered later – channel-independent.
For authors, making content presentation-agnostic may initially appear to be a negative. People think in terms of the full message, which includes the presentation. However, the trade-off for learning to craft presentation-agnostic content is the freedom to create the content only once, rather than once per channel (and with the number of channels growing as they are…)
Likewise, many authors will see the inability to switch to an underlying source code view of content as a negative. They find this to be a very useful feature. And it is… because so many systems are not designed or implemented based on specific communication needs, nor are they designed for multi-channel content. If we are delivering content across channels, we cannot afford to break the predefined content structures. We cannot automatically convert structures that have not been defined. And any defined structure will be editable in a good AX-centric system.
Another side effect of multi-channel-optimised structured content is that it must be semantic. The system must know how to deal with it based on what it refers to.
The tools embedded in the UI make this easier for users, and enhance workflow. The consequence of better search results benefits the business and the end user.
Everyone benefits from semantic content’s reusability. Here, the potential argument will come from the business. Reusable content is used by search engines to answer search questions directly, without users needing to visit an organisation’s site. Some businesses operate under the false impression that hits to their site are more important than the customer finding out what they want to know. (We all know what HITS stands for.)
Structured content, that does not allow messing with code manually, implies structural consistency.
The reusability of such content benefits each party in a different way: Authors (and workflow) because they do not need to repeat tasks End users because they will not suffer from unsynchronised content variants in different places The business as a consequence of both reasons (it’s cheaper to maintain, and there are less errors)
Content repurposability refers to the ability to use content for purposes for which it was not originally considered. This makes deployment to new channels faster, and cheaper.
As a consequence of reuse, content is consistent across channels (which is good for the customer) for no additional cost or effort.
To accompany structured content, and manage it for multi-channel delivery, a good author experience will embed context controls.
The adaptive delivery this empowers helps the business communicate better, and gives the end-user what they actually want. The reason authors may fight against it is that they will need to learn how to manage content with contextual differentiation. This means learning to think outside the box of “content as presented”.
With good embedded contextual controls, we will also see the rise of more relevant context definitions – specific times, locations and action flows that relate to the end user and their interaction with the organisation, instead of the generic, old-school demographic segmentation that takes does not deal with mind set.
Intelligent content is a fundamental consequence of good content structure with well-conceived context definitions.
Lastly within the area of structured content, we have the financial benefits of structure.
The first, and most valuable to both authors (particularly content strategists) and to the business is the ability to actually measure the real ROI on content. Yes, this requires good analytics integration, but with content granularity comes the ability to track content performance in a meaningful way.
While it is obvious that the reduction in costs will be a benefit to the business, the end user benefits significantly as well. Cheaper-to-create content means that some of the saving can be put to work creating better content. And cheaper translations encourages more complete translation of the content set (the task actually stands a chance of being completed).
Moving to the third quadrant, we have content consistency.
The first section here is channel independence, which happens not to offer any benefits directly to the author (that they don’t have to create it many times over is has already been covered).
The primary beneficiary of channel independence is the end user. They do not lose some information simply because they chose one channel over another (or only have access to one channel. They get the same content whichever channel they use. This then gives them the freedom to use whatever is most accessible and appropriate for them.
The last item is a special one, and it goes against the dictates of the likes of Google. However, it is inherent to the differing nature of channels. Page parity means that where you have one “page” within one channel, there is a matching single “page” in another channel. Once we realise that face-to-face communication is one of the channels wear dealing with, it becomes obvious that page parity cannot exist. If it is broken by the lack of pages in one environment, then it is inherently an artificial constraint to apply to other channels.
With consistent content, and the per-channel mappings they imply, we can break away from page parity on all levels, serving the best content in the optimal formats and chunks for each audience.
One of the underlying elements that gives us content consistency from a good author experience is that it is modelled on the organisation’s specific domain model and processes. It is a system that facilitates the human process of managing content.
The business-centred nature of the design automatically benefits the business, and the processes involved.
That the online content management processes enhance and extend offline ones means that the customer interaction is modelled in a consistent way. This benefits the business and the customer.
And lastly, because the online processes are based on the reality of offline ones, because they are drawing from holistic systems, work is done by the responsible parties. There is no need for a digital team to duplicate work already done in the department that owns it. This makes content and data flow faster, which reducing workload.
Governance – a term too often used as a swanky synonym for workflow, which is itself a misnomer for an approvals process – is actually so much more than these basic concepts. (Not to mention that approvals workflows do not, fundamentally, work. They are not based on real-world approvals processes that work offline.
Governance means a variety of things, including: Putting responsibility for content on the shoulders of those who should own it… on a very granular level. (For example, while marketing may own a product description, the technical/development department owns the detailed figures used within that description, even if they are but numbers in the middle of a sentence.) The content management cycle (calendar), and the tools for ensuring content quality, are part of the system. This means better content for the end user.
Author experience, of course, wouldn’t be anything if it didn’t also include some focus on the authors specifically. Of course, these don’t benefit only the author.
The first aspect is design patterns. Repetition. Standard approaches. Especially ones modelled about the authors’ ways of thinking.
This means that they are easy to learn, natural and instinctive. If you come back to them after months away, it takes only a moment to remember how to do something. That is not only easier for the authors, it saves time and training.
The consistency of design patterns means that when new elements are added, they don’t require further training, because they use the same paradigms as existing parts of the interface.
One of the key features of author experience design patterns is that they should all be based on helping reinforce the CMS’s purpose: top facilitate content management. Therefore, they are designed to help the author be more effective and efficient.
The core aim here, of course, is to create better quality content.
This means that as well as the content management interfaces being standardised and consistent, based on the authors’ ways of thinking, they use terminology that the authors are familiar with. And they use it consistently.
These approaches mean that the authors do not have to fight the system. The system supports them. They are more relaxed and enabled. They are less frustrated. And that is the real value of making the tools more appropriate for their purpose: the authors are less likely to make mistakes because they are frustrated. And that means better content, which works to the business and the end-users’ advantage.
Lastly, the tools that a good author experience makes available mean more awareness of the content.
Individual authors who know and appreciate where their responsibilities lie, who can see what is on their plate, can get their work done. This encourages working across silos, because everyone understands their role in the larger process better.
Additionally, because the point is to share and reuse content, it is important to surface when this is happening to the authors: let them know how and where their content is being used. This helps inform the governance cycle, And, of course, reuse across departmental silos reduces content duplication – and more importantly, the errors resulting from unsynchronised changes in duplicated content.
Taking this particular breakdown of the aspects of author experience, we see that it is a win-win-win scenario. Even though it is called author experience, the business is the real winner: both from a financial and a workflow perspective. And there are significant benefits for the end user, too.
My first attempt at this gave me even better results, in one sense: the authors had the lowest benefit score! (Unfortunately, I couldn’t divide it up into a pretty, balanced diagram with that initial set of features and functionality.)
We’ve seen: What author experience is: how it fits between the CMS and the author, to help the CMS fulfil its purpose. It concentrates on the creation of quality content, in a way that makes sense to the authors. Why we must invest in author experience, to enable meaningful multi-channel content management, irrespective of what other benefits it brings. How improving the CMS interface to make more sense to the authors benefits not only the authors themselves, but both the business and the customer consuming the provided content.
Finally, my book, Author Experience: Bridging the gap between people and technology in content management – part of the Content Wrangler series on Content Strategy – is available from all good booksellers.
Onramp - Making the case for author experience (Content strategy Applied USA 2014)
Making the case for author experience
18 years in the web
The CMS: Quiz
What is the purpose of a CMS?
The CMS: Quiz
What is the purpose of a CMS?
To be the butt of a bad joke?
There’s a reason they call it a
The CMS: Quiz
What is the purpose of a CMS?
The purpose of a content management system is
to facilitate the human process
of managing the communication content lifecycle
from creation, through use, to archiving.
An author is anyone who uses
the author environment
of the content management system.
Author experience, as a discipline,
is the provision of
contextually appropriate functionality
within a content management environment.
The onramp to the information superhighway.
Structured content (1)
Simple content exchange/sharing
An integrated content exchange model
Considering data & content throughout
the business ecosystem
Structured content (1)
No access to source code
Single/multi-context authoring switching
Structured content (1)
Optimal search results
Semantics in authoring
Structured content (2)
Content is reusable
Content is repurposable
Cross-channel content consistency