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Your content, published in lots of places, all at once.

 

Multi-channel publishing is taking one chunk of content and publishing it as multiple deliverables without any manual adjustment to the formatting. 

Multi-channel publishing, when prepared correctly, is gratifying and simple. However, for many technical documentation departments, publishing is just another time-consuming headache. 

How do we make this supposed simplicity a reality? 

If multi-channel publishing sounds like a pipedream, it’s not your fault. It is a reflection of a collective misunderstanding of content as a whole. We’re going to look at a common but broken understanding of publishing, how this misunderstanding undermines publishing, and how to fix it.

Thinking About Content

 

Pooh Think GIF - Pooh Think GIFs

Like I mentioned, if the thought of publishing makes your stomach turn, you’re not alone. 

In a 2017 survey we conducted, writers ranked formatting and publishing as one of the least valuable tasks they do, yet it took up almost 10% of their time. For many writers, those numbers are even worse. 

The pain of publishing goes a lot deeper. It stems from a poor understanding of content as a whole. 

Why the misunderstanding? Lots of reasons, but mainly, you can blame paper. 

You see, much of our software is still focused on putting words on a literal page of 8.5×11 paper. 

Even if you don’t print a PDF or a Word document anymore, the choices that go into creating content often center around paper as the primary final medium. 

We essentially tie the concept of content to the output, namely, paper. 

But that’s just wrong.

Content is an idea that has been captured in some form in the real world outside of our thoughts. Here are two examples of content. 

    • Assembly instructions written in a Microsoft Word document
    • A photo of the product that you took with your cell phone, but never uploaded

Those are both content. 

This is important because when we talk about content, it exists even if it isn’t published. The Word Document is what we typically consider content, but that photo is still content even if you didn’t post it.

Now, this is where the issues arise. With the above examples, they’re all content, but one is bound to an output format. 

That document written in Word is now bound specifically to Microsoft Word. If you are to share the document, you share it as a Word document (.docx).

The photograph is different. You could take that one photo and publish it to Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Slack, Dropbox, your brochure, website, portal, newsletter, etc. In all of these publishing scenarios, the photo will integrate cleanly.  

The document however, is not portable in the same way. If you want to publish a Word document to those scenarios, in some instances you must copy and paste the content. In others, you might be able to upload the file, but it then is still stuck in the form of a word document. 

Do you see the difference? The photo is a standardized content component (JPG) that is distinct from the publishing process. The Word Document is already locked into a content medium as it is created. 

So, what does this have to do with publishing? 

 

Publishing: One to One or One to Many?

Typical publishing is the act of turning content into an output format. It’s a one to one process. It works with the photo, but it also works if you want to publish your written content as a Word document. 

That’s pretty straightforward, but what about multi-channel publishing? 

Multi-channel publishing is the act of publishing multiple finished documents from the same piece of source content, and this is done without adjusting or formatting the content for each individual output. 

In other words, the content you’ve already created for a deliverable is transformed to lots of different formats –multiple-channels — often at the same time. Rather than a one-to-one process, this is one-to-many. 

If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because, once again, we as a collective society and as content creators, contributors, and strategists, think about content all wrong. We think of our content as a deliverable. A booklet. A website.  A download. A Document. A single something. 

Wrong. 

Content is the idea that fills the deliverable. 

And that idea, that piece of content, should not have to be bound to a single output format. 

This is how we should think of content, separate from the medium in which we create and deliver it. And not all mediums are created equal. 

Think of content as water. 

If you’re thirsty, you have many options on how to drink it. You might use a drinking fountain. Perhaps you prefer tap water in a glass. Or maybe you prefer bottled water. All of these forms are just different delivery mechanisms for the same thing: water. The water is malleable and conforms to the delivery method. 

This is how content should work. And it can work this way.

 

How Does Multi-Channel Publishing Work? 

If you want your content to be like water, able to fluidly fill whatever publishing process you wish, then what you really want is for your content to be structured.  

Structured content is called a lot of things: 

 

The point is that structured content is actually useful. It is standardized. Not in a proprietary format (like the markup you find in a word document) but in a publicly available standard.  

Structured content that abides by a standard is developed with a strict set of rules surrounding how that content can be developed. These rules are kind of like sheet music. They have to follow a pattern and fit within specified parameters, but once written down, anyone can play the music. With structured content, once it’s created, any publishing channel that understands the standard can publish the content. 

And, it can be automated. 

This is the magic of multi-channel publishing: automation. 

Because structured content is written in a way that systems and applications can understand, the publishing process doesn’t need a human messing with indenting anymore. 

 

Automated, Push-Button, Multi-Channel Publishing 

It’s a mouthful, but once you automate your publishing, you’ll have extra time to say long, grandiose turns of phrase like the one above!

Content created as structured content is output agnostic. It’s not optimized for one publishing channel, rather it is optimized for the multiplicity of channels available today such as:

    • Learning and Training
    • PDF
    • Web Portal
    • Anything API 
    • Static Website
    • Chatbot

 

This is an example of compounding value. You don’t just save time and headaches as one flat amount, the more you use it, the more you save. If you write one document, translate it to five languages, and publish to four channels, that’s 20 instances of manual formatting that you’ve just eliminated. 

Now, if you like spending your days fussing over how far those bullet points should be indented, then, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to do it on your own time. 

But, if you want to automate what should be automated so you can focus on developing better content faster, this is a great option for you. 

 

easyDITA and Multi-Channel

Your ideas are not bound to a medium, why should your content be? 

At easyDITA, we’re fixated on helping you create a reader-centric publishing environment that lets you take one chunk of awesome content, and publish it everywhere you need. Whether you need a custom branded PDF, a static website, or something completely different, we’ve got the resources and the know-how to help you succeed. 

If you’d like an ally in banding against the plight of publishing, let us know! We’d be happy to demonstrate some gallantry and show the exciting possibilities available to you. 

John Baker
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