Content Syndication: Ready for the Masses?

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Others concur. Leif Pedersen, vice president of product marketing at CMS vendor Vignette sees many companies improving their extranets. Pedersen confesses, "If you had asked me about syndication in 1999, I would have replied that it would be way further than it is now in 2003—I still think that there is a long way to go in adopting syndication in a day-to-day basis." Nevertheless, Vignette's ICE-based syndication module (the result of its acquisition of OnDisplay three years ago) has found some traction in the manufacturing vertical. Clients Westco, Heinz, and Grainger are all using syndication to push content out to partners.

High-tech firms with complex post-sales communications needs in particular seem to have discovered a friend in ICE-based syndication. For example, Boeing and National Semiconductor syndicate main- tenance and operations information to customers. One former CMS vendor, Enigma, now focuses exclusively on facilitating this kind of after-market content distribution.

However, for more generalized ebusiness needs, companies have largely eschewed ICE in favor of more data-driven, transactional information-exchange standards, such as ebXML and RosettaNet. "I see very little ICE out there," notes Betty Harvey of Electronic Commerce Connection Inc., a longtime SGML and EDI consultant. Right now, there appears to be a bigger focus on pushing services out beyond the firewall, rather than content. This might be a bit shortsighted, but Harvey thinks the marketplace has decided that syndication, "is best for pushing headlines," rather than doing ebusiness.

Part of the problem may be unfamiliarity with arcane acronyms and a lack of resonance with the term "syndication" itself among marketing professionals. "I don't think people are very aware of ICE outside of IT departments," notes Stellent's Ryan. "To say ‘syndication to partner channels' isn't meaningful to businesspeople. We have to get better at explaining, ‘you have a channel—we are going to move content through it,'" he adds. Ryan remains optimistic about outbound syndication—especially for local governments—but adds that it may still be too early for broad adoption.

Manage Now, Syndicate Later
The relative dearth of syndication might have its roots in companies' ongoing general content management struggles. If an organization is still mastering basic automation of its Web publishing processes, outbound syndication could remain a distant luxury. Bob Boiko, author of the Content Management Bible, argues that organizations "are not ready for the idea of syndication because they are still struggling with the idea of content reuse in general." He adds, "Whenever I actually suggest [syndication] to clients or audiences I get mostly blank looks."

Lisa Welchman, senior consultant at CMSWatch, agrees that the problem lies in part with the bigger challenge of information architecture. Welchman argues that, "In order to effectively syndicate content, you need to know what your content is, you need to be able to abstract it so that you can dissect and resect it, and not only put it back together for your organization, but put it together so it's useful for others, too." That can be hard enough, but then there are process management issues. The two sides, "have to mutually agree on how content will be represented, shipped, transformed, and so forth," says Welchman, "and there needs to be an intelligent being on the receiving side accepting it—sometimes people forget about that."

For media companies, syndication is simply an extension of what they already do: distribute content. For others, the concept is often totally new, and unlikely to take precedence over deeper content management challenges. But what about that national association or non-profit that wants to share content with its chapters? Chances are, they are still working out formal Web governance policies between parent and affiliate bodies. At one major health advocacy non-profit where Welchman assisted in the development of a CMS, the headquarters operation barely knew which affiliates had a Web site or a Webmaster. "Syndication sounds good on paper," quips Welchman, "but I'm still waiting for that Fortune story where people saved millions of dollars syndicating content."


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