Adobe Tech Comm recently hosted Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, as our special guest, to provide his updates on why structure in content is so essential. Scott’s Webinar, which you can view by clicking here, went far beyond the traditional DITA/XML definition of structure for just documents.
As Scott made clear, our rapidly changing world of information creation, delivery and consumption, requires many forms of structure as the underpinnings of our content to make it useful and extend its life in terms of relevance. Scott covered 9 critical reasons that we need structure and shared an intriguing preview of his recent, exhaustive survey that covers how people have succeeded or failed in adopting content structure strategies.
Structure is all around us
Our very DNA is composed of highly complicated structure. We have inherent human instincts to organize critical information in a structured manner for rapid retrieval (e.g. the Dewey Decimal System in libraries enabled logical classification of books before computer search was possible.) Blue prints and all forms of paper-based project planning were forms of useful structure.
9 reasons we need structure
- structure provides authoring guidance to deliver well-structured content that is both human and machine readable
- content usability increases when there are visual cues that give the user confidence in swiftly spotting critical information
- automatic delivery of content requires predictability to plan for and repurpose the content
- structure allows single-source publishing to multiple channels to be efficient. This is highly critical with the proliferation of new screens and platforms.
- transactional content requires “semantically-enriched” structured content; this makes the automation of business processes become possible
- content can be automatically adapted and made to leverage responsive design techniques. Today we require single-sources content that is location-aware, purpose specific and device-aware (e.g. your content needs to know whether it is displaying on an iPad, a desktop or a smart phone.) Now we can format content “on the fly” to fit the device it is to display on.
- we can leverage the power of content management systems to deliver content dynamically, in real time, due to structure (e.g. emergency information and customer service.)
- move beyond “persona-ized” content to “personalized content” to deliver the right information to the right people, at the right time, in the right format and in the right language.
- structure eases the reuse of content in “known” sets of related information and in sets of information that will meet unknown future needs. Obviously, the number or tablets and new platforms (Google eye glasses) for consuming information will only increase, in ways that we may not be able to imagine “this year.”
Why don’t more people use structure intelligently and usefully?
In spite of the dramatically increased tools for authoring and managing structured content, why haven’t more people moved to this next step? Scott used feedback from Guy Kawaski as to why there is often a time lag before major innovations finally reach their full potential. (Example: TV was successfully demonstrated in its current form in 1928 and really went mainstream in the USA around 1952.)
Technology is changing things faster than we can change: Kawasaki indicates that past technologies have often taken 10-15 years to achieve their full, intended potential. Scott shared a compelling example of a visionary in the aerospace community who outlined a highly intelligent way to organize print based structure nearly 50 years ago in 1963; his plan covered page layout, visual cues and logical ordering or critical elements.
Watch the webinar recording for a preview of survey results
Scott Abel recently compiled results from an exhaustive survey that produced highly granular feedback on the “speed bumps” that have prevented people, workgroups and corporations from moving forward more quickly. Scott’s feedback shows some common human habits and dispositions that can become barriers, but also be overcome in achieving your content strategy goals.
Conclusion: why should we want to create structured content?
You will have to view the webinar recording for these points to have their full impact, but here are Scott’s answers to this question:
- structure increases our value
- structure makes us (writers/content creators) more marketable
- structure prepares us for other jobs
- structure supports the growth of our profession
- structure also provides interesting work
… in other words, structure can actually be an adventure.
Have your own hands-on with structure and decide how you can use it
Adobe Technical Communication Suite 4 includes FrameMaker 11, which is an excellent structured editor for DITA/XML. The possibilities with these new tools are as limitless as the profiles of our existing and potential customers. To discover how you can use FrameMaker, download a trial copy of FrameMaker 11 today. After having your own hands-on, you may decide in favor of the best bargain of all, obtaining a cloud subscription to the entire Tech Comm Suite 4, which includes RoboHelp 10, Captivate 6 and other products in addition to FrameMaker 11.