In our recently completed research on Smart Content in the Enterprise we explored how organizations are taking advantage of benefits from XML throughout the enterprise and not just in the documentation department. Our findings include several key issues that leading edge XML implementers are addressing including new delivery requirements, new ways of creating and managing content, and the use of standards to create rich, interoperable content. In our case studies we examined how some are breaking out of the documentation department silo and enabling others inside or even outside the organization to contribute and collaborate on content. Some are even using crowd sourcing and social publishing to allow consumers of the information to annotate it and participate in its development. We found that expectations for content creation and management have changed significantly and we need to think about how we organize and manage our data to support these new requirements. One key finding of the research is that organizations are taking a different approach to repurposing their content, a more proactive approach that might better be called “multipurposing”.
In the XML world we have been talking about repurposing content for decades. Repurposing content usually means content that is created for one type of use is reorganized, converted, transformed, etc. for another use. Many organizations have successfully deployed XML systems that optimize delivery in multiple formats using what is often referred to as a Single Source Publishing (SSP) process where a single source of content is created and transformed into all desired deliverable formats (e.g., HTML, PDF, etc.).
Traditional delivery of content in the form of documents, whether in HTML or PDF, can be very limiting to users who want to search across multiple documents, reorganize document content into a form that is useful to the particular task at hand, or share portions with collaborators. As the functionality on Web sites and mobile devices becomes more sophisticated, new ways of delivering content are needed to take advantage of these capabilities. Dynamic assembly of content into custom views can be optimized with delivery of content components instead of whole documents. Powerful search features can be enhanced with metadata and other forms of content enrichment.
SSP and repurposing content traditionally focuses on the content creation, authoring, management and workflow steps up to delivery. In order for organizations to keep up with the potential of delivery systems and the emerging expectations of users, it behooves us to take a broader view of requirements for content systems and the underlying data model. Developers need to expand the scope of activities they evaluate and plan for when designing the system and the underlying data model. They should consider what metadata might improve faceted searching or dynamic assembly. In doing so they can identify the multiple purposes the content is destined for throughout the ecosystem in which it is created, managed and consumed.
Multipurpose content is designed with additional functionality in mind including faceted search, distributed collaboration and annotation, localization and translation, indexing, and even provisioning and other supply chain transactions. In short, multipurposing content focuses on the bigger picture to meet a broader set of business drivers throughout the enterprise, and even beyond to the needs of the information consumers.
It is easy to get carried away with data modeling and an overly complex data model usually requires more development, maintenance, and training than would otherwise be required to meet a set of business needs. You definitely want to avoid using specific processing terminology when naming elements (e.g., specific formatting, element names that describe processing actions instead of defining the role of the content). You can still create data models that address the broader range of activities without using specific commands or actions. Knowing a chunk of text is a “definition” instead of an “error message” is useful and far more easy to reinterpret for other uses than an “h2” element name or an attribute for display=’yes’. Breaking chapters into individual topics eases custom, dynamic assembly. Adding keywords and other enrichment can improve search results and the active management of the content. In short, multipurpose data models can and should be comprehensive and remain device agnostic to meet enterprise requirements for the content.
The difference between repurposing content and multipurpose content is a matter of degree and scope, and requires generic, agnostic components and element names. But most of all, multipurposing requires understanding the requirements of all processes in the desired enterprise environment up front when designing a system to make sure the model is sufficient to deliver designed outcomes and capabilities. Otherwise repurposing content will continue to be done as an afterthought process and possibly limit the usefulness of the content for some applications.