Content classification and findability no image

Published on September 27th, 2010 | by Rahel Bailie


The Web is Just an Output Channel

A review of a content strategy article came back with the comment: Ding, ding! I wish you’d tweet that sometime.  What resonated to strongly with my reviewer?

The web is simply one channel in a multi-channel publishing environment.

You can’t really talk about being a web content strategist, unless that means you handle only web content that is not also destined for mobile phones, PDAs and other small-screen devices, or even (gasp!) print. And if you don’t, who takes care of the content models, delivery design, topics maps, localization, customization, standards, publishing pipelines, transformation guidelines, metadata, and all that other stuff that needs to be considered?

When we develop content strategies, we are asked to analyze content and make recommendations about the various aspects of how content will be handled during the content lifecycle. One of those decisions points may be how the content should be, is likely to be, and will be consumed by its readers.  It could be output to the Web, but it’s more likely to get output to the Web as simply one of the channels in a multichannel publishing environment.

I contend that no one can do it all, but that the way to slice the content pie isn’t by output channel. Meanwhile, did this ring a bell for anyone else? Discuss…

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

9 Responses to The Web is Just an Output Channel

  1. seamus walsh says:

    Rahel, I agree, I know cases where web input is analyzed and based on results the system become intelligent. For example;

    A custom order comes in from CA to suit manufacturer in Lawrence MA. Raw material inventory is checked, work-in-process labor is evaluated, configuration options are validated. The content strategy was input, giving the system the intelligence to evaluate the data.
    I think the key is based on your past thesis that content follows product, which also means it follows the customer order and those are populated by input and output channels.

  2. Content or not content…
    I do agree with both of you. And I would like to add something that is concerned with Before Content.
    Sometimes a content strategist must have a facilitator approach.
    Usually I ask “What content do you have?” The answers vary, but usually there are 5 sec of silence. Behind the silence? «what is she talking about?”
    Talking about content means also to make people understand what is content and what is not.

  3. John McCrory says:

    I spend a lot of time helping people to understand that the web is not a one-way medium and that it is not “merely” a channel. So, I’m not sure I get what you mean by an “output channel.”

    If you mean that content can be output to “the web” in so many different ways now and on so many different kinds of devices, that it can’t be considered a single environment to plan for — then I’m with you.

  4. @Rahel:

    …you handle only web content that is not also destined for mobile phones, PDAs and other small-screen devices…

    When you talk about content on mobile phones and PDAs, do you differentiate that somehow from “the web”? I guess you mean the desktop-browser-based web? When I think about people using iPhones to access content (even using apps), I still think of web content.

    If I characterized your statement as “the desktop browser-based web is only one of many output channels”, would that still communicate your meaning? (If not, I think I’ve missed your point.)

  5. rahelab says:

    Let me clarify a bit more about what I meant by calling the Web an output channel. Fast Company magazine has lots of articles that get output to (1) print and (2) the Web. They also output to (3) email, but those are summaries. They are read online, and if you use gmail, it’s even read in a browser, but it’s not really the Web.

    In another case, the content is music-related. It is the artist name, album title, song title, etc, plus cover art plus the actual song, and can be viewed in a browser, on an MP3 player, and cell phone. So the Web is a actually a small part of how the content will be viewed.

    Another strategy involved content that was, I suppose, technically on the “web” though it was online help topics that got viewed in a browser. The other variations included (a) output to PDF, which I suppose could be considered a Web view but not really, (b) specialty XML for transformation and integration into an LMS, (3) a knowledge base for a customer support group, and importantly, (4) into the interface of a software app.

    In my world, that’s called multi-channel publishing, and one needs to know how to create a single source that can used to create all the outputs, develop the variations that will work for each output channel, and guide the technology processes for transforming the content to each of the channels.

    Hope that clarifies where I’m coming from.

  6. Christine Astle says:

    This definitely struck a cord with me. It seems sometimes that I am fighting a losing battle, trying to convince people that the software help is just one output channel–that if you treat the help topics as content rather than as code, they can have a life outside the UI (where, if the UI is designed well, most people will never see them). They could end up in PDF application notes, Web-based training materials, etc.

  7. Rahel Bailie says:

    Technical communicators generally have the opposite problem: they create help topics, but actually re-using them (or variations of them) in the software is often a pipe dream. When developers listen is when the translation costs start to balloon and then there is some executive pressure to get it together.

  8. Pingback:   Content strategy for technical communicators: what happens to my doc plan? by Communications from DMN

  9. Pingback: Why I Wrote Content Strategy FOR THE WEB « Brain Traffic Blog

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