How Workflow Metrics Change for Intelligent Content – presentation from ICC 2014

3 Mar

Hot off the polishing press: my presentation from the Intelligent Content Conference, held last week in San Jose.

No matter where you are on the path from unstructured content toward Intelligent Content, metrics matter. Do you have any idea how your content creation metrics will change as you take up the challenge of creating Intelligent Content—and more importantly, how they will impact your budget and resource needs over time? This session will address these questions—plus the fundamental tasks of creating baseline metrics and integrating changing metrics into your budget planning.

On the blog this month, I’ll be going over the presentation in depth for those of you not able to make it to the conference!

Authoring in Neutral English (And other restricted-dictionary adventures)

19 Feb

Part I

Most of us work with content that will be consumed by people across the globe. So it makes sense that we should understand the basics of how to optimize content for international use.

In addition, many businesses are exploring how to move their globalization process from high touch /high human intervention, to a process that includes as much automated manipulation as possible. When editing and high-touch work on content comes at the end of the content development process, meaning close to the translation phase, there is a high cost in change management. This is expensive in terms of both time and budget, and requires heavy human-interaction with the content. In addition, working in this way does not provide the maximum opportunity for automated translation tools to “learn” from translated content, therefore eliminating opportunities to improve future translation work with those tools.

Sometimes this means translation or localization, but often it means being smart about how content is authored; writing in a way that makes that content as accessible as possible to as many readers as possible. Often this involves authoring content using one form or another of “restricted-dictionary” versions of English. Some of these include:

International   English Typically a UK-style English that most closely represents the standards learned by the majority of English speakers around the world.
Business   English A combination of International English and Business jargon, usually specific to a field or a technology.
Simplified   English A defined method of constructing written content so that it is most   easily understood by people who do not speak English as a primary language. Simplified English uses simple sentence construction, closely follows grammar rules, and is written for low-grade reading comprehension.
Neutral   English Neutral English is optimized for machine translation, not human consumption. Often a first version of text is created in standard or Simplified English, and then is modified into Neutral English before translation.

In addition to having a low barrier for comprehension and retention, content authored in this way is almost always less expensive to localize than standard US-based English or other English forms. This is because it is intentionally written using simple constructions and other conventions that help it achieve high accuracy with human and machine translation methods.

Using Optimized Content to Solve Translation Challenges

Some of the biggest challenges related to translation include the difficulties of correctly localizing idioms, metaphors, jargon, catch-phrases, and the like.

By using restricted-dictionary strategies that recommend specific grammars, re-usable content strategies (single-sourcing techniques), sentence construction guidelines, along with consistent use of boilerplate text and templates, can help authors and editors better standardize the original source material.

From such source material, it is much easier to create versions of English optimized for the correct end use – be that Business English or Neutral English.

For businesses that target only one or two languages for translation, the second level of optimization can be targeted even more specifically for that language to help for increased accuracy with translation tools.

Next Post, Part II: My story of authoring product content in Neutral English, and an interview with Scott Abel and Val Swisher

What I really learn at conferences: Who to follow

14 Nov

Reposted from The Steyer Blog

Once I’ve attended a few conferences in a year, I’ve heard the basic trends and information Ineed to know. For the rest of the conference season, I find that the main value lies in connecting with people. Here are the questions I ask myself to figure out who to follow:
  • Who are the thought leaders?
  • Who is the best at correctly projecting trends?
  • Who really knows their stuff?
  • Who are futurists and who are practical tacticians?
  • Who provides the best info, day in and day out?

I can’t say that I have definitive answers to all of the above questions, but I’m well on my way to curating a treasured list. And that’s what I want to share with everyone today.

Truly kick-ass presenters

Nick Finck, @nickf &
Irreverent and intelligent. A UX strategist, in the broadest sense of “UX.” Hands-down the best presenter at LavaCon 2014. Just started a new role as Sr. Manager of UX for AWS.

Andrea Ames, @aames &
Find Andrea on and everywhere else you can locate her. Then watch. Brilliance in action.

Noz Urbina, @nozurbina &
Noz consistently paints a picture of the complete content universe. Then, for us mere mortals, he breaks it down by identifying the constellations, one by one., and helping us to understand how they work together and will continue to move forward.

Thought-provoking technologists

Marta Rauch, @martarauch
Marta is all about Google Glass, augmented reality, and gamification. If you’re interested in any of these technologies, you need to follow her.

RJ Jaquez, @rjacquez &
mLearning. In a nutshell, RJ is the person to follow. RJ was a former Adobe Evangelist. Also: really, really nice guy.

Practical tacticians

Lucie Hyde, @LucieHyde &
Director of Content for eBay UK. Lucie never hesitates to share what eBay UK is doing to optimize content, and better yet, she provides excellent detail about how they’re doing it.

Kit Brown-Hoekstra, @kitcomgenesis
Smart as a whip, Kit’s webinars and other tools are invaluable resources. Focus on Localization and medical/life sciences.

Marcia Riefer-Johnson, @MarciaRJohnston &
Author of Word Up!, Marcia is an incredible wordsmith and tactician. And friendly, helpful, and approachable to boot. You will learn loads by following her.

Best live tweeters/bloggers

Marli Mesibov, @marsinthestars &
Marli is an incredible live-everythinger at conferences. If she’s there, you can be assured that she’s attending the most interesting sessions and live-tweeting them. Then – added bonus – she usually writes up a full summary and posts it on her blog.

Rahel Ann Bailey, @rahelab &
Rahel is a cornerstone of the Content Strategy world. When she’s at a conference, workshop, or other venue, her tweets are the perfect way to track and learn all that’s going on.

Toni Mantych, @tcmpdx
Toni is usually an active tweeter only at conferences, workshops, and the like – which makes her a perfect person to follow. Quick to identify and share the key snippets of any presentation, Toni’s stream is invaluable.

Invaluable info “shovelers”

Cheryl Landes, @landesc &
Always tweeting great articles, links, and other info. If you don’t have time to follow the trends or to parse what are the best things to pay attention to, just follow Cheryl and she will handle it for you.

Scott Abel, @scottabel &
Scott is possibly the most prolific info-pusher in the content world. If it matters, Scott’s on it.

Michael Weiss, @mikepweiss &
While not specific to the content universe, Michael specializes in presentation and communications excellence. This extends beyond the classroom or stage to the skills we content experts need to use every single day.

These are some of my treasures. Your mileage may vary – and if it does, don’t be shy about commenting here to share who you follow and why!

LavaCon 2013 – More CS Toolbox: Cost Analysis and Resource Models

24 Oct

Just back from LavaCon 2013! Wow, another incredible conference from Jack Molisani and the entire LavaCon crew.

I presented an enriched version of “A Content Strategist’s Toolbox,” with deeper details on cost analysis, resource planning, and content plan approach.

Slides are here: CS Toolbox: Cost Analysis and Resource Models

Truly excellent session notes from Marli Mesibov on her blog.

Interested in more?

My Workshop at ICC 2013: A Content Strategist’s Toolbox

8 Feb

Here’s part of the description for my presentation today:

This workshop will   include several examples of resource evaluations and plans for projects: some   small, some large; some simple and some multi-channel. Along the way, Shawn   will also describe how she thinks through options for building scalable,   non-traditional resource models that are uniquely structured for a project’s   individual needs. She’ll also spend a goodly chunk of time with Excel,   demonstrating the budget-estimating methodology she uses for each project.

Here’s a preview version of the Workshop Deck. Check back next week for the full deck and tools, as well as more info on what we all learned together in the session.

Excel: My New BFF?

18 Oct

This post is a follow-up to the Content Strategy Workshops, a two-day practicum following LavaCon, held in Portland on October 9-10 2012.

For years I prided myself on knowing little about Microsoft Excel. This lack of knowledge was a badge of honor. After all, I am a words person, not a numbers person. A decade or so of professional work passed in this Excel-free bliss, but then something changed: I had to plan content budgets.

That was the start of a tumultuous relationship with spreadsheets, workbooks, and mathematical formulas. This culminated at the Content Strategy Workshops, where I learned how to “pop” critical information by applying functions and conditional formatting to content audits. Soon I hardly recognized my writerly self. And I wasn’t the only one going through this transformation. All around the room, 100+ content professionals were gasping and murmuring in pleased disbelief:

We were Excel powerusers!

It hasn’t been an easy transition, but I’ve learned to love Excel and what it can do for me. The Workshops cemented this change, and I wanted to share some of what I learned with you. The key? For content inventories and audits, spreadsheets still rule the roost. As daunting as they can seem at first, there currently aren’t better solutions. There are some good reasons why, and several of them were highlighted again and again during the Workshops:

1.     A spreadsheet-style layout is still the best way to break down content sets.

It seems like there should be a more discipline-specific tool by now, but the truth is, Excel still does the best job, whether your content set is small or massive. Sapient’s Kevin Nichols, Razorfish’s Sarah Beckley, and SUBTXT’s Tosca Fasso all showed the power of Excel in breaking down complex content sets. My favorite? An audit from Sarah that had over 60 columns and 3000+ entries.

2.     To accurately perform any audit, all your content must be in one system.

The most popular way to do this continues to be Excel. eBay Europe’s Lucie Hyde and expert Content Strategist Rahel Bailie shared from deep experience that audits and content analysis can’t be completed accurately unless all the content is in one system. This can be the most tedious part of the project, but it must be done right if you want accurate and quantifiable results.

3.     Modularize first. Design later.

This concept helped me to let go of (most of) my remaining Excel prejudices. As content experts, we all deal constantly with single-sourced content and multi-channel delivery. Modularization is critical and fundamentally necessary. Once again, Lucie Hyde made a strong case for using the right tool for the job… an obvious observation, yet an important one to internalize.

Excel is a great tool for creating modular content structures. But it’s lousy for anything related to exporting or design. Audit, modularize, and tag your content in a spreadsheet, then look for the best design dBase or content design system to dump your modularized content. But don’t expect to do both well with only one tool. Some interesting post-modularization tools suggested by people at the conference are PugPig, TreeJack, and Dozuki.

Has your experience with creating content inventories or audits been similar? Wildly different? Leave a comment and share your experience!

Read the original blog post at

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