Web Publishing A Headache For Newspapers

Lot of newspapers have started publishing news online in addition to their print versions. Especially after reports of plummeting revenues for print-only newspapers, online news has seen frantic activity. The customization and personalization that the online medium offers is tempting and usable for the news readers. It also provides a 24/7 access to the readers, no dependency on anything else. As the article rightly suggests

Newspapers must stop defining business as ink on dead trees. You need to define your business as providing information to people. Ink on dead trees is just one way of delivering that information to people.

However, exactly this multi-channel delivery of news is causing concerns for journalists and newspapers (via The Blogging Journalist. As web has evoloved, it is not just another way of delivering news, it has become a necessity. Newspapers are being forced to exploit it to its extreme to stay in the competition. The web medium offers so much more than the print medium – interactivity, multimedia and discussions. To be able to successfully employ the web, journalists are being asked to change their style of reporting.

From major big-city dailies to the smallest local newspapers, the Web’s growing influence has not only provided fresh advantages for news presentation, breaking stories, and timely opinion. It has also created new time demands on staffers, management headaches for editors, and a host of new issues, from what to pay reporters for extra online work to deciding when to throw a scoop up on the Web.

Now, every event covered demands audio and video reports. Not only the reporting, but the readers now expect a platform for participating and discussing these issues. To be one-up on the others, newspapers are trying to publish as frequent and as many updates as possible. This is not only taking toll on the staffers time but sometimes also on the quality of the content.

At The Washington Post, staffers say they are glad to take advantage of the Web, but admit an increased workload and concerns over its inevitable effect on quality. “That is worrisome for those of us who want to have time to do proper reporting and write proper stories,” says Rick Weiss, a reporter and co-chair of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild’s Post unit. “We are getting spread very thin.” The union also has raised concerns over compensation for bloggers, which is not always done equally.

And all this has to happen in addition to the existing print medium. Print newspapers will never go out of fashion, they form the necessary but not sufficient part of publishing.

Solution in Technology

My interest in this problem is from the perspective of a technology solution provider. Can technology be leveraged to reduce or minimize the growing pains in multi-channel delivery? A very apt solution, at an abstraction, is a Content Management System (CMS). Some of its advantages that can directly help are:

Single Source Publishing

The concept of single-source publishing is that the news to be published is composed just once, and then published in different formats depending on the medium. Ofcourse this cannot help in capturing the video, but it can minimize the writing of same story multiple times. Web should not be considered only as a platform for publishing, but also for composing news. There are various CMSs available which interact with tools used for news composition.

A Print Solution to Complement Your CMS Workflow [1, 2] is an excellent piece by Lisa Bos.

Article Management System

A CMS should be implemented as an Article Management System or a Publication Management System that can automate a lot of processes in publication. Most important being the workflow. Once a journalist submits an article, it has to be routed through a process to finally allow it for publishing. There are also some cases where an article might be allowed to be published only on one medium.

One more efficient use of automation can be scheduled publishing. The CMS can be told to postdate the publishing of an article. Once set up, no manual intervention is required to make sure that it gets published.

XML Publishing

Most of the CMSs support XML Publishing. The essence of multi-channel delivery and single-source publishing is to store the content in a common place and then render it in different rich formats. This requires separation of content and formatting. The latest tools like Adobe Framemaker inherently support XML to enable multi-channel delivery.

Advantages of the Web

A Web CMS brings the advantages of 24/7 access from anywhere nature. Journalists can submit articles from the location of the event. Typing softwares nowadays allow inbuilt spellchecking and abbreviations which can reduce the time taken to write the article. As soon as it is up, it is available for editing, wherever the editors are located. The CMSs can be configured to send email/mobile alerts on certain events so that there is instant notification for a pending action.

The flipside of this is that a new technology has to be introduced. It will provide the maximum ROI if the journalists and editors get familar with it and use it effectively. There is definitely a initial learning curve but the new age technology is made as usable as possible from the user’s perspective.

The problems being caused by web in publishing today can be solved to a certain extent by adopting it and using it effectively in the core processes.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

Advertisements

What Is Content Management System?

Just like Web 2.0, Content Management System (CMS) has been defined and redefined multiple times by multiple people for multiple purposes. They all might stand valid in their space and context. This is an attempt to make an all-inclusive definition of a CMS. The purpose of this definition is not for customization but for qualifying/building CMSs which can be applied in multiple scenarios.

A Content Management System (CMS) is a system which manages entire lifecycle of the content – from its creation to archival/destruction without breaking the integrity and meaning of the content. To be able to be applied in multiple scenarios, a CMS should support creation of new content types and all the actions required for managing it.

This definition is abstract, and is heavily dependent on definition of some of the terms used – content, management, action. Lets define them too.

The Basics

Content is largely related to data and information. Data is wide enough to include everything, facts and events without relations to anything else. Information is however, more richer than data. Information is a pre-conceived and intended message sent by the creator/author to the receiver(s). The information includes relations between data and builds a context that the author wants to convey. As mentioned in the Content Management Bible by Bob Boiko:

What is content? Raw information becomes content when it is given a usable form intended for one or more purposes. Increasingly, the value of content is based upon the combination of its primary usable form, along with its application, accessibility, usage, usefulness, brand recognition, and uniqueness.

Content is information put to use. For this to be achieved, the information has to be presented in a usable manner. To effectively use the information, it has to be acted upon and extended for further use. An example is a book name when catalogued with a shelf number and used by a reader to find it. Here the book can have additional data along with it, e.g., availability, shelf number, number of copies, reviews, etc. Depending on this information, the reader can take further action.

Computers cannot directly handle content, they have been built to deal with data with algorithms. Hence content has to be provided to the computer in form of data. It is done by wrapping the information with a layer of data, usually called the metadata. The metadata provides a context to the information that leads to different actions that can be taken on the information. These different possible actions and a workflow of these actions result in management of the data. Content is therefore, information (complex data) with metadata (simple data).

Real World CMS

A lot of definitions of CMS I have read do it only for the digital world, infact some of them only for the Web. Even though the term was termed for computer systems, a computer system is ultimately an automation of a real world system. To design or use the computer system, experience with the real world system is equally important.

I consider the libraries or newspaper publishing houses as instances of the CMS, where the content has been specialised. In the real world, whether computers are used or not, they do handle the content right from its origin to its death. A CMS however is abstract, the content has to be specialised to be able to see its implementations or real world examples, e.g., a library management system or an article management system.

What is CMS?

In the light of the discussion till now a CMS has to consider the people and processes. People form the users who use the information to make the content, take actions on it and manage it. Processes are the policies, rules or standards used by an organization that have to be automated. Just like any other software, a CMS provides the basic value of automation.

A CMS is different from rest of the softwares as it stresses on the management of content, and has to provide a business interface even to the users involved in managing the content along with the ones using it. In a newspaper publishing system, a journalist should be considered as an user of a CMS as he/she can use it to write an article or an editor can use to edit it. Note that the journalist should not be asked to FTP a file or write an entry, but write an article. The interface provided to the users involved in managing the content should be non-technical as they are for the end users.

Even though a CMS will have specialised content, it will have to handle more than one content types. e.g., in case of a library management system, the main content type can be books, but it will also need journals, authors, readers, penalties, etc.

Lets look at some attributes a CMS should have:

  • Integrated Framework: To be able to provide extensibility of multiple content types, the CMS should have a common platform to manage the lifecycle of content. The framework should serve as an API for creating different content types as well as the corresponding actions, e.g., search.
  • Content Classification: The CMS should provide facilities for content classification. Content classification provides structured navigation to the user.
  • Separation of Concerns: The way data is stored should be independent of the way it is rendered, and vice versa. This is important from the fact that the same data can be displayed in different ways to different users for different purposes. This also encourages single-source publishing, so that the multiple formats are supported without duplication of data.
  • Roles and Permissions: In the real world, there are more than one roles that handle content, e.g., journalist, editor, publisher. To be able to automate this a CMS should support multiple roles and corresponding permissions. The roles also form part of the processes and workflows that are automated.
  • Web Enabled: Since most of the CMS applications involve multiple people in different locations, web provides a good platform to provide 24/7 access irrespective of the location. Even if the entire CMS is not web based, atleast the publishing should be allowed on web. However, this is completely dependent on the users of the system.

Here are some examples of CMS:

I am sure there are many more out there. For a comprehensive list, visit The CMS Matrix. There are different types of CMSs, but that deserves dedicated space and discussion.

More reading

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

WordPress – Multiple Heirarchical Categories To Rescue

The advent of Content Management Systems (CMS) has seen the usage of computers move from handling data to handling content. So, what is the difference? Content is data with a context. The same data can mean different and differ in importance depending on the context. e.g., a temperature of 29oC can mean hot or cold or normal depending on which place we are talking about. We, humans deal with content and knowledge rather than with data. The challenge with computers though, is that they are built to handle only data, and not content. We have to disguise, repackage, wrap data for creating the content.

I was part of a team creating ManojKhatri.com, an author network. Work on it still continues, but the first iteration is complete. WordPress was specifically selected for this because of its capabilities.

One of them being classification of posts into multiple categories and even heirarchical, which was required for our information architecture. It was identified as a specific requirement that some of the articles would be earlier published in a publication. The articles would be written on diverse topics and of multiple natures, e.g., fiction, interviews, columns, etc. It was also decided that the users should be able to access the article by any of these aspects. This is where we have used the feature of multiple heirarchical categories of WordPress. As you can see on the website, multiple top-level categories called Editorial Type, Publication and Topic were created. They in turn had other categories under them. But this allowed the user to choose the aspect he/she wants to read articles by and then choose the specific categories. This also provided us another benefit that it enforced the author to choose from existing categories. The top-level categories are an indication of what aspect of the post the categories under them represent, they provided a context to the user for the underlying categories.

The other solution we had was to create any of these aspects as custom fields of the corresponding host. This would mean that WordPress would not automatically give us the list of the different topics, editorial types or publications. This would also mean that extra validation would have to be done to restrict the author to certain topics, editorial types or publications. Considering these factors, we chose the former way.

By design, a category in WordPress is a group of articles, which allows me to get all the posts under a category without looking at details of the post. Whereas, the custom field is an attribute of the post, and would require to know the post identifier.

Ideally we would have preferred to create datatypes of each of the aspects – editorial type, publication and topic. However, as I have written WordPress allows, but does not inherently support creation of different datatypes, we would have to create everything related to that datatype. For this iteration, this approach not only saved us lot of time in implementing the content classification but also made it convenient for the user and the administrator. Feel free to comment on this and give suggestions.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , ,

Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

Bootstrap Your Business With Open Source

I have written earlier how open source enables open mind and an open dialogue, here I discuss how open source domain can be leveraged to bootstrap a business and provide infrastructure for it.

This is the world where ideas can quickly build businesses. A good idea is valued in the market if you have the conviction and belief. Still, after the last dot-com avalanche, the venture capitalists and the sponsors are more careful; you have to go that extra mile to convince them about your strategy and cost efficiency. With IT playing an important role in the businesses, both of these factors can be highly affected by the software you choose.

With open source programming getting matured day by day, it is proven that the open source applications are not just a second choice or inexpensive option. They can contribute first hand to your business plan. They can provide high value not just by their cost but also by their merit. There are thousands of options available out there, lets look at some of them:

Desktops and Servers

Linux is a free operating system originally of developers around the world. There are thousands of different flavours available for Linux, some of the more popular ones are:

Linux has performed well and is being chosen in critical operations, including defense. This includes its use as a convenient desktop and high performance and secure servers. Here are some instances:

Office Suite

OpenOffice Suite is a multi-platform productivity suite. It includes the key desktop application, such as a wordpressor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites. It is also compatible with a variety of file formats, including those of Microsof Office, and the vendor-neutral OpenDocument standard from OASIS. What this means is that OpenOffice can not only read Microsoft Office documents, but also create them. It goes a step ahead and lets you create the popular PDF documents with click of a button. The OpenDocument is an open standard that lets you create documents that can be used in multiple office suites. OpenOffice tries to be compatible with other office suites in terms of its usage – the shortcuts, the GUI so that it is easier for other office suite users. It has to be different in some other places because it is much more flexible and provides many more possibilities. Here are some links for OpenOffice usage:

There is lots of information more available that can help you master this office suite. If you are using Linux there are also other options available like KOffice.

Accounting Software

Designed to be easy to use, yet powerful and flexible, GnuCash allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. As quick and intuitive to use as a checkbook register, it is based on professional account principles to ensure balanced books and accurate reports. GnuCash is backed by an active development community and is blossoming into a full-fledged accounting system. Amont its features, it supports the popular OFX protocol, scheduled transactions, multi-currency transaction handling, statement reconciliation, double entry , check printing and various reports.

Both these applications come with good documentation and experience of a vast community.

CRM and ERP

SugarCRM is a commercial open source Customer Relationship Management solution. You can choose to either buy the supported enterprise version or use the open source free version available. Both these packages contain core customer interaction management for marketing, sales and services.

Compiere is another open source Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management solution. It boasts of features like process driven design, quote-to-cash, requisition-to-pay, CRM, Partners Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management, performance analysis, web store.

Online Presence

Online presence is a must for any business today. Again, the open source domain provides a gamut of options available for developing corporate websites, online businesses, community driven sites, online magazines, news websites or blogs. There are variety of Content Management Systems like eZ publish, Plone, Bricolage, Campsite, Krang, Joomla or WordPress. Here are some examples of their adoption:

There are open source portal builders available for building intranets or company portals:

In addition to these CMSs, there are thousands of open source applications that provide domain specific functionalities on the web.

Other infrastructure

In addition to this following open source solutions are available that can be used by businesses:

  • OpenVPN – a open source full-featured SSL VPN solution
  • Asterisk – an open source PBX that can be used to develop VOIP solutions
  • Check here for many more open source VOIP solutions.

Businesses can benefit by considering these resources as it gives them more options not only in features but also cost.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , content+management+systems, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda