Is MS Word No Longer Preferred?
Straight to CMS.
Six years ago, ThomasNet eliminated Microsoft Word from its editorsâ desktops. The result? âIt was one of the best things we ever did,â says ThomasNet director Paul Gerbino.
As a digital-only publisher, ThomasNet had more incentive than most to dump Word. âWhen you try to incorporate any kind of Word document, thereâs a lot of coding that creates some challenges,â says Gerbino. âWe needed to database all of the content and we started looking at the flow by which editors create stories.â
ThomasNet creates abstracts from product press releases, which involved editors importing the press release (which typically come in Word or PDF) into the system as straight text. Then the editors (many of whom are freelance) make sure the release displayed on an HTML page looks as close to an original topic as possible (including any original spelling mistakes). They then crop the most relevant images to fit and match the release to the ThomasNet taxonomy to provide headline links and keyword extractions. âWhen they started moving from tool to tool it slowed them down,â says Gerbino. âWe thought about the final product and what steps we needed to get there.â
ThomasNet originally built the new system in ColdFusion but over the years has migrated to a hybrid approach with open source software. âIf you asked me today, would I buy off the shelf or build, Iâd do it somewhere in the middle,â says Gerbino. âAt the time these were more document management systems than content management systems. We had to bite the bullet but the savings in terms of reducing the number of servers and maintaining servers made it a lot easier for us. â
The system is constantly being upgraded. âTo me itâs not a system they built, itâs a living, growing entity,â says Gerbino. âOne of the editors said, âI have to toggle back and forth to constantly remind myself what story was about. Why donât we create a preview of the story on that page?â That was so simple but we looked past it for several years. Now we expose those keywords and phrases as tags to a story.â
Work-Arounds are Problems
Publishers pay a lot of lip service to their content management system but how many editors continue to write and style original content in Word, only to have it completely un-styled, manually uploaded and styled again in a different program serving online or print? The industry may be adopting more advanced workflow tools but changing habits is another battle entirely. Work-arounds have become routine and we no longer see inefficiencies as problems but âthatâs-the-way-it-is.â
Government Computer News continues to prepare documents in Word because its current CMS (which it contracts with an outside provider and has customized) isnât that friendly for outside contributors, according to editor-in-chief Wyatt Kash. âWe prepare our documents in Word and they go through a traditional print process; copy desk, then streaming copy into Quark. For those stories published for print purposes, we essentially copy those files into batch files which go into a staging area on our CMS. It largely fills templates but each headline has to be fine-tuned.â
GCN still needs a Web-based template for outsiders to use. âIf the industry continues to rely heavily on freelancers, Word or Word-type Web documents will be a key way content arrives at the doorstep,â says Kash. âWe all agree weâd rather write and edit once and publish twice in multiple versions. The ideal system would be one where we could take stories and publish to the Web first but have multiple versions. We want to publish online first, print second, in which case we would move faster presumably if we had a good CMS service.â
Hanley Wood typically uses publishing system K4 to stage content, then flow it from InCopy through InDesign and then by way of XML to the Web. However, now the company is looking to make the workflow go the other way by publishing to the Web first, then pushing to print through a new CMS called Tridion. âOne of the things we liked is its ability to publish back into InDesign,â says Alec Dann, general manager of Hanley Wood Magazines Online. âThe notion would be the writer puts up the story where it makes the most sense, given the time-sensitive nature. I imagine print content will always come from the InCopy and InDesign flow, but if Iâm going to publish to the Web quickly, I probably want to publish it right into CMS. If the editor wants to pull it back into the K4 world, they can also do that. I wouldnât be surprised if someone cuts and pastes from Tridion into K4 but weâre still in the early stages.â
At Hearst, the majority of content is still created in Word for print, according to director of editorial operations Ellen Payne. âIf itâs a layout like right-to-fit, itâs written in InCopy,â she says. âIf itâs written in-house, odds are itâs InCopy. If itâs freelance, it should in Word.â
The complication for Hearst is the print side uses K4 while the online side has their own CMS they built themselves. âIt would be logical if everyone was in same the CMS but K4 does not meet the needs of digital media,â says Payne. âWe were already a K4 shop and what digital media does isnât conducive to a print workflow. The Web editors have K4 plus the internal digital CMS. If some copy was written in-house for the Web, it may be routed through K4. Itâs simplified but itâs an effective way of tracking stories before they get uploaded into the CMS.â
Hearst is not reconsidering K4 for a more digitally-focused CMS. âIf anything, weâre looking at what else K4 can do,â says Payne. âWeâre also not walking away from the CMS on the digital side, they co-exist just fine. Half of our print editors are contributing content to the Web.â
The Best of Both Worlds?
While still in the very early stages, systems are emerging that donât service just print or digital content but attempt to bridge the gap between the two. Boardroom Inc., a publisher of consumer newsletters and books, recently adopted Nuqleo, an enterprise content publishing system based around the Adobe InDesign server.
According to Ken Sevey, manager of desktop publishing, Boardroom can still start the story in a Word container and send it back to an e-mail address, which the system processes and sends to a unique location. âThere are ways to batch thatâwe can select 20 stories and drop them to an area but the manual way is ideal because we can start formation of the meta-data,â says Sevey. âWhatâs the working title, whatâs the angle of the story, what is some key information we want to swim round in.â
From then, if the story is in good enough shape, the system will convert it from Word into XML and the staff can use the Web-based Nuqleo editor. âIf you have a Web browser that allows you to set type, thatâs pretty darn good,â says Sevey. âThe interface is not ideal for editors because they keep thinking in terms of Word, especially from all those years working in Word and getting instant gratification when you bold something. It doesnât work that way.â
Writing once in a format that is compatible for both print and digital will be key for publishers going forward. âSome of the development is a little behind but the [Nuqleo] interface itself is getting darn close to what we want,â says Sevey. âTo search for things by name, by date, or by full text is powerful. Our goal is to have editors set the story and avoid the bottlenecking because in our current process the editor gets it, styles it in Word, only for it to be unstyled, given to a production person who styles it all over again and then puts it in InDesign.â
Emerging Workflow Solutions
Hybrid models serving both print and digital will continue to be the norm but the industry is getting closer to one model that serves all media.
Nuqleo: An AJAX-based Enterprise Content Publishing system developed on Java and XML. Information is stored internally in an XML format.
Apogee Media Suite: A modular publishing system that covers different phases of a publicationâs production, from its definition to final publication and archival.
EZ Publish: An open source enterprise content management platform
ArborText: A content publishing system that automates the process and leverages XML authoring, technical illustration creation, content and process management and dynamic enterprise publishing.