It’s been four years since we started building the Publisher. I’m still as ambitious as ever, if a little older and wiser. At times our journey has felt a little like an odyssey — I suspect that’s why at last year’s ContentEd conference Mike Atherton’s final slide felt so apt.
We’ve travelled a long way in those intervening years and the choices we have made, have given Bath opportunities it wouldn’t have had unless we begun this journey.
We’re no longer a ‘start-up’; nowadays I’d describe us more akin to a ‘product company’ with ‘investors’ to whom we are accountable.
At Bath, we chose to future-proof our content by building a structured content publishing platform called the Publisher, based on the principles of create once publish everywhere (COPE).
By no longer treating content as something that can be reused, we are better placed to keep pace with change, we can:
- scale content delivery across different platforms and devices
- improve the accuracy of information by reducing duplication
- prepare content for future formats avoiding costly manual migrations
While “not every benefit of adopting a structured content will be felt right away… [we have an opportunity to] build an efficient, richly linked ecosystems that helps users find what they’re look for and helps your content creators focus on what they do best” — Designing Content Content, Mike Atherton.
Some of the practical applications of structured content at Bath include:
Our content types (templates) are marked-up using schema.org so that the information can be reused by search engines to provide contextually relevant results in search, via different platforms, including conversational interfaces like Google assistant.
The first template where schema.org will be fully implemented is our event template. We plan to use this same technology other pages including locations, which include opening hours. This means, if you ask your voice assistant when a Café will open on campus, it will be able to answer your question.
Because we are using structured content, authors don’t need to do anything to benefit from this change apart from create a supporting content item.
Prospectuses play a crucial role in student recruitment. In 2017, we published our first prospectus using COPE. We created course information in the Publisher and then exported it for use in InDesign to create a print version. This revolutionised the way the University creates its prospectus.
Using COPE means we can reduce the number of staff supporting the prospectus, save time and reduce errors. In the past, the prospectus would have been written twice, once for print and once for digital. We’ve now removed this requirement which has helped to improve accuracy.
The process worked so well that our Undergraduate Admissions team want to use the same technology in the near future to create programme descriptors in a durable format for students accepting their place on courses.
Creating content using a structured editor has significant implications, not only in terms of how content is created but also how it is approved and governed. Old approaches to content production are no longer fit for purpose.
Authors, editors and subject experts no longer create, review and approve a webpage, they are approving a content item in the context of a broader user journey, which means that discrete parts of the content can be reused in multiple contexts.
When you create a content item, you need to think about not only the audience and their needs but also the context in which the content will be consumed. This can create challenges, especially for people whose roles are not digitally focussed, as content is no longer tied to a single webpage. Let’s be honest that’s a pretty tricky concept to process.
Creating structured content is about empowering an organisation to engage with people across multiple platforms, devices and formats in a way that works for them, with minimal overheads.
I recognise the Publisher isn’t perfect — I live and breath it every day. We’ve still got a long way to go, but that’s okay. Building a content management system (CMS) is like a website, it’s an iterative process and takes time. What I do know is that we are headed in the right direction.
Over the last couple of years, we have been able to help the organisation make use of this technology and can see its potential. It’s my role to take the Publisher forward and develop it into a fully-fledged structured content platform.
Over the next couple of years, I‘m excited about the possibility of the team experimenting with integrating our courses, guides and factsheets with chatbot technology, to help better meet the needs of prospects and applicants through 24/7 support. The most obvious benefit is that admissions colleagues will be able to spend more time with people who need more hands-on assistance, helping to improve the quality of service provided.
What’s important is that we stay true to our vision and remember it's okay to chase rainbows.