The Siren Song of Structure: Heeding the Call of Reusability

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What to Do
As you can see, the choice of which editorial environment to support structured publishing is not an obvious one. So are you consigned to internal culture wars regardless of the path you take? Not necessarily. Consider some basic rules before pressing ahead.

Be proactive about managing change: Regardless of the tools you select, content contributors will still need to learn to think in terms of structure. Michael Fergusson, president of software firm Enfolding Systems believes that encouraging people to recognize the true value of their content is the first step, "They never had a way of re-using it before, and therefore never had a culture of reusing it." And it turns out that many users will make major changes when prepped properly. Phil Suh of once converted an entire corporate marketing group from using word processing software to managing XML-based content within a simple text editor. "They were nervous, but got used to it, and came to like the higher quality of outputs—but we had to do a lot of handholding," Suh explains.

Nevertheless, some CMS veterans point out that training regimes have their limits. Says Stellent's Ryan, "If you have thousandsor tens of thousands of users, you need to let them do what they normally do on the desktop, and accommodate them at the system level." For example, on the Merrill Lynch intranet, running under Stellent, users from around the world contribute content via Word and other desktop formats.

Content structures may be fluid at first, and exceptions will emerge: Determining content structures that work effectively for both the company and the individual contributors will be an iterative, collaborative process. In the real world, document types can exhibit substantial variations (e.g,. "when we issue a press release on a Monday, we organize it a bit differently") that do not always reveal themselves at first. "Don't hire a person to consult with you who then leaves right away," advises's Suh.

Resist the temptation to assume that your initial set of rules will remain valid for all time. Instead, maintain an expectation that you will need to evolve your architecture. According to RSI's Bos, this has staffing and feedback implications, "People initially need to be sophisticated enough to know when to change the rules." Bos cautions that low-level production staffers may not possess sufficient knowledge or gumption to press for needed change in content structures.

Some content requires structure more than others: You probably don't want to waste a lot of time trying to glean structure from content types that are fundamentally variable. Gaffin's team easily chunked Network World's straight news types, but found that there was insufficient business justification for standardizing their very heterogeneous feature articles.

Workflow may present a key consideration here. Certain content types may require chunking less for separate publishing needs, but rather to allow separate elements to go through different workflows. Your legal department, for example, may wish to sign off on changes to a disclaimer in your footer that otherwise carries no reason for being isolated out as a separate component.

Align added responsibility with added value: If maintaining structural elements means more work, find out who benefits from that extra effort and try to place the added responsibility there. Sometimes, authors themselves—who have felt the pain of maintaining three different versions of the same content for different venues—will gladly apply style elements to documents if it means eliminating laborious steps.

In other cases, your firm may need to invest in additional resources (read: people) to decompose documents and assign element tags before content is added to your CMS. "Structure has to be based on who should own what part," argues Percussion's Imrich. If the business unit owns a particular part of a Web site, then that unit needs to take responsibility for expiration dates and other structural elements. Of course, this usually means additional human intervention in the workflow, but maybe that's not a bad thing. Robert Mattson, divine's senior manager of product marketing says, "you need more 'person intelligence' to do this than 'programmatic intelligence,' because there is so much different content coming into the typical corporate Web site."

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