How to start making intelligent content

Today my content strategy colleges are presenting their finished master theses, while I haven’t written a word yet. I didn’t do it because of one single reason – I have to hand in my thesis in EPUB format. This fact upsets me a lot as I have never created EPUBs before and it seems to be difficult.
However, I am proud to pronounce that I MADE IT! Today I officially created my first EPUB. And this with help of DITA and XMLmind DITA Converter. So please feel free to congratulate me.
To be honest I have spent 2,5 working day to make it work on Windows. It means 20 HOURS. And I really want others to save this effort, so here is the short list what you need to do to make it work.

Install Codex Editor

Though there are many editors out there to work with DITA technology, this one worked out for me, it is free and enough for the purpose of master thesis. Here you can get the latest version – CodeX download page.

  • Step 1. Download CodeX
  • Step 2. Install CodeX

After successful installation you can already create content in CodeX in .dita and .ditamap formats. Here you will find some simple how-to-demos that will help you to start working with CodeX.

Graphical User Interface of CodeX is simple.

Install a converter

Now you might wonder ‚Why do I need to install something else? Don’t I already have everything?‘

No. You don’t. In CodeX you can create content in .dita and .ditamap formats. But there is no way to get that content out of CodeX. You can create neither PDF nor EPUB output document. So what you need is a converter.

DITA-OT (open source) or XMLmind Dita Converter (proprietary) are two examples of DITA converter. There are differences in supported output formats.

The current version of DITA-OT (3.3.2) supports following transformation types:

  • dita,
  • eclipsehelp,
  • html5,
  • htmlhelp,
  • markdown,
  • markdown_gitbook,
  • markdown_github,
  • pdf,
  • pdf2,
  • tocjs,
  • troff,
  • xhtml.

Unfortunately, currently, it does not support EPUB. So if you need both PDF and EPUB you’d better jump directly to the XMLmind installation and operation description.

Current version of XMLmind DITA Converter (3.5.0) supports following output foramts:

  • docx,
  • eclipsehelp,
  • epub,
  • epub3,
  • fo,
  • html,
  • htmlhelp,
  • javahelp,
  • odt,
  • pdf,
  • ps,
  • rtf,
  • xhtml,
  • xhtml1.1,
  • xhtml5,
  • webhelp,
  • webhelp5,
  • wml.

Install DITA Open Toolkit

Here you will get the latest version of DITA-OT, which can convert your ditamap into PDF.

  • Step 3. Download DITA-OT
  • Step 4. Install DITA-OT

Nothing special will happen when you’ve done it, so just if it all went smooth go to the next step.

  • Step 5. Go to the bin directory of DITA-OT
C:\Program Files\dita-ot-3.3.2\bin>
  • Step 6. Convert DITAMAP into PDF

Enter this command, where ‚-i ..\..\..\CodexFiles\SampleMap.ditamap‘ shows where the input file is located. And ‚-f pdf‘ defines what output format do you wish to create. So basically the command looks like ‚dita -i YourInputFile -f RequiredFormat‘

dita -i ..\..\..\CodexFiles\SampleMap.ditamap -f pdf

If there was no error message then it worked fine. Just go and look for the fresh and shiny PDF document in your dita-ot-3.3.2\bin\out directory.

Here is mine ->

Install XMLmind DITA Converter

Here you will find XMLmind DITA Converter that allows you to create PDFs as well as EPUBs.

  • Step 3. Download XMLmind DITA Converter
  • Step 4. Install XMLmind DITA Converter

When everything went well you are done. Now create your DITA documents in CodeX Editor and add them to a single DITAMAP document. Then you go to your command promt/terminal window and type following commands.

  • Step 5. Go to the bin directory of XMLmind DITA Converter (ditac)
C:\Program Files\ditac-3_5_0\bin>
  • Step 6. Convert DITAMAP into EPUB

Enter this command, where ’sample.epub‘ is how you want your new epub to be called – you can be creative here. And ‚..\..\..\CodexFiles\SampleMap.ditamap‘ is a path to the place your DITAMAP document is located.

ditac sample.epub ..\..\..\CodexFiles\SampleMap.ditamap

If there was no error message than it worked fine. Just go and look for the fresh and shiny EPUB document in your ditac-3_5_0\bin directory.

Install Calibre (Optional)

If you have no program to open EPUBs installed yet, try Calibre. Here you can download Calibre for free.

My first EPUB

And now I proudly present my first EPUB! So now there are no excuses left – I will have to start with my thesis…

Don’t leave your ego at home when you go to a client

I had the honour to learn from famous content strategists like Margot Bloomstein and Deane Barker. In their webinars and workshops for Content Strategy students, they both recommend not to involve ego into content strategy projects. In this short article, I summarize the main reasons why I totally disagree.

Beware irony.

Your ego should not be missing

Any consulting project, where X amount of client representatives are involved, automatically includes at least X amount of egos. Why should yours be missing? More egos, more fun! This is how you make friends.

You know it ALL

Obviously. Otherwise, why would they hire you? They pay for your expertise and you are confident YOUR solution is the best. No doubts allowed.

You are right

Your reputation is very important to you, isn’t it? And you wouldn’t allow any client to ruin it. So you ARE right, whatever happens.

You are better

To make people stop questioning your solution, you might need to decrease their self-esteem. To do so just confirm their uncertainties in themselves whenever you can. And never educate them. Very soon they will feel insecure and incompetent and will finally stop messing with your ego.

Conclusion

Beware irony.

Do you feel a bit worried or stressed about this approach? Do you think it is exhausting and inefficient?

Well, you should.
Here is some more honest reading about egos involvement in consultant projects by Deane Barker. And here is my honest advice:

Leave your ego at home.

Success stories are boring

Success stories are boring.
Startup success stories are horribly boring.
They are all quite the same and go like that:

We had that bright idea. We made right things at the right time at the right place. We worked hard, we had luck and we are genius anyway.

Another thing those success stories have in common – you learn nothing from them. Cause by no mean you can learn success. But you can learn failures. And you can learn to foresee them and change your path.
So how can exciting stories with no happy end look like?

We had that bright idea at the wrong time.

Bright idea guarantees nothing. Just have it at the wrong time, when consumers and the market are not ready for it, and you fail brilliantly.
An innovative idea is even harder to bring through. A lot of explanation to adjust mental models of consumers (=money for marketing) is required. If you believe that innovation sells, you are damn wrong. Innovation is probably the worst sales manager ever. So just multiply your marketing budget 10 times. Maybe it’ll work.

We had that bright idea and made wrong things (at wrong place).

The brightest idea served to the wrong people won’t bring you far. You can also try to serve right people but at places, they never visit/use. Or make all of that right and forget the usability issues of your target group and thus make your product unusable for them. Yes, there are many ways to fail.
Greetings to user research I have not done when I should have had.

We worked hard.

Working hard guarantees no success. Working hard makes you blind. It really matters to take your hands off, get a bit distanced from all that startup stress and look at it from the bird perspective. Just to be sure you are not working hard on burying your startup.

We had no luck.

Well, luck is a good but very unreliable metrics. Having luck means you being on the right path. However, having no luck does not mean anything. Maybe you are on the wrong path. But maybe these are just life hurdles you are struggling with and they are to check if you deserve more.
I have a strong opinion that luck is essential and you have to keep an eye on it. If no (even tiny) lucky circumstances ever happening on your startup path, you might need to rethink it.
And my startup failure experience makes me suspect that user research, bird-eye view and luck are old good friends.

We were not smart enough.

You were brave enough to take a risk and leave your comfort zone to try that idea out. And then you were brave and smart enough to admit the flop. So be proud of the challenges you took and failed. So hey! Even if you failed, you are genius. Do celebrate the startup you fucked up. Thanks to it your next project might actually succeed.

Whatever the future might bring, the startups we’ve failed, the stories with no happy end, are the ones our grandchildren will love to listen to and ask to tell them all over again.
And again.
And again.
Cause success stories are boring.

Using content lifecycle to perform on social media

Though Austria is a beautiful country blessed with sports-predestined landscapes it still has its struggles like relatively high prices, relatively short summer, no sea, and high competition. Last years were indeed generous of sun and advantageous political issues, making Austria especially attractive for summer tourism. This summer hit operators hard. Some of them have to cope with turnover decrease up to 30%. As competition in the business becomes harder it is time to become serious with content strategy and revise the approach of using social media.

Every sports and activity provider in Austria is familiar with the social media and has at least a Facebook or a Twitter account. However, only for a tiny part of them, the effort pays off. The others think of it as of a waste of their time. Why?

The absence of a strategy is the main reason. However successful content strategy requires a high-quality content foundation. To create one a content lifecycle management should be considered. During its lifecycle content should go through four stages: Analysis -> Collection -> Management -> Delivery. Each stage must use an output of the previous one as an input so that the effort would not be wasted. So what is happening in reality?

Content Analysis

AS-IS: Prerequisites for doing well at this stage are brilliant in this business. Being usually a small company, operators are working with their customers directly and know exactly what they are up to or interested in. However, this knowledge is being wasted as no actual analysis is being done.

TO-BE: Use the knowledge and experience, think of the situation and come up with the ideas which content can be of a special interest for the customers.

Content Collection

AS-IS: Sport and activity providers in Austria are enormously strong here, even though most of them are not aware of it. To make it clear I give an example. A diving base having its location, personnel, equipment, knowledge, and guests has lots of opportunities for content collection. Making photos, filming the next scheduled theoretical course or taking a GoPro camera next time they go wrack diving – just to name some of them. Lots of content is being created impulsively – with no strategy behind it.

TO-BE: Use the outcome from ‘analysis stage‘ and create less but aim-oriented content. This approach lets to increase the efficiency of content and decrease the waste of resources.

Content Management

AS-IS: At this stage of content lifecycle the sport and activity providers are actually at their weakest. Firstly, most of them are not professionally familiar with information technologies and all the opportunities they offer as it is not their core competence. Secondly, they do not have time and energy for it. Guiding a canyoning tour twice a day is pretty much demanding, so managing created content will be the last idea such an instructor would come up with in the end of the day. Thirdly, sports instructors are seldom at the base. Guiding rafting tours on all different rivers, instructors are geographically spread and ‘offline‘ most of the time. This is a huge obstacle on the way to structure, standardize the content or even to bring it all onto the one common repository.

TO-BE: Instead of hunting every created content, focus on the content needed according to the ‘analysis stage‘ output. Managing a small amount of useful content is way easier than managing lots of rubbish content.

Content Delivery

AS-IS: Shoot a picture with a smartphone and post it on Facebook. Content delivered! This is the way most of sport and activity providers work.

TO-BE: Though this is not the only way of content delivery, it is okay to shoot and post as long as this process is driven by previous three stages of content lifecycle management. Otherwise, you deliver low-quality content.

 

This brief comparison demonstrates how lots of content and effort is being wasted for the sake of occasional delivery of spontaneous low-quality content. No wonder it does not pay off.

These TO-BE tips will help to improve the quality of the content. Social media is a great channel for a low budget marketing, so use it fully to persuade guests to take a windsurfing course at YOUR base next summer.

An der Quelle sitzen, aus dem Vollen schöpfen

Im Zuge meine Arbeit für ein österreichisches Tourismus-Unternehmen habe ich hunderte Webseiten von den Sport und Freizeitanbietern durchgeforstet und festgestellt, dass alle Aktiv-Anbieter haben zwei große Vorteile:

  1. Sie ’sitzen‘ auf der Content-Quelle – sie können jederzeit Fotos und Videos von ihren Produkten bzw. Leistungen produzieren.
  2. Sie verfügen über das nötige Produkt oder Dienstleistungspezifisches Wissen.

Das bedeutet, dass sie nahezu grenzenlose Möglichkeiten haben hochqualitative Inhalte für ihre Online-Präsenz zu produzieren. Das Problem ist aber, das sie diese Vorteile nicht ausnutzen können.

Das liegt daran, dass sie nicht wissen wie man einen guten Content von einem schlechten unterscheidet. Oft haben sie keinen Know-How über die ‚Computer-Geschichteln‘ und auch keine Lust sich nach einem anstrengenden Arbeitstag (wo sie sich oft körperlich herausgaben) mit der Technik und strategischen Konzepten auseinander zu setzen.

In diesem Ratgeber teile ich mein Wissen über die einfachen aber wirkungsvollen Techniken für eine bessere Online-Präsenz für die Startups und kleine und mittlere Unternehmen. Damit sie nicht nur an der Quelle sitzen, sondern auch aus dem Vollen schöpfen.

Die Startups sowie kleine und mittlere Unternehmen haben was gemeinsam. Sie haben meistens sehr begrenzte Ressourcen, die sie weise einsetzen müssen. Sehr oft sitzen sie an der Content-Quelle. Denn sie können jederzeit neue Inhalte erstellen, sprich Fotos oder Videos machen, ihre Gäste oder Kunden befragen, Aktionen und Campaignen umsetzen und vieles mehr. Somit können sie hochwertige und einzigartige Inhalte produzieren und ihr Unternehmen attraktiver für die Kunden und Investoren machen. Theoretisch. In der Realität schaffen nur die Wenigen gute Inhalte zu erstellen und ihrem Unternehmen damit Gutes zu tun.