Content farming, plagiarism, ebooks - AKA "The Kindle Swindle"

Posted by Marianne Calihanna on Mar 31, 2011 12:03:00 PM

Tighten up your ereaders..the spammers are coming. Publishing Trends details how ebooks are the latest frontier for spammers. I recently noticed some garbage coming through on the Kindle store and wondered what this is all about.

Products like Autopilot Kindle Cash promote a tool that generates "passive income" and "totally hands free cash." Because many ebook vendors don't check copyright on books that are submitted, people are stealing content from the web and using tools like Autopilot Kindle Cash to quickly create ebooks about the same topic from multiple angles (targeting different keyword variants), and publishing them. Putting the books on also boosts the spammers ranking in search results.

Read the full post on "The Kindle Swindle" at Publishing Trends here.

Topics: ebooks, book publishing

Make XML a solution (instead of a challenge)

Posted by Marianne Calihanna on Mar 30, 2011 9:17:00 AM

Address the top 3 digital publishing challenges with XML. Most content producers no longer rely on a single channel for content distribution. To efficiently and competitively expand digital offerings, publishers are looking to re-use existing content to create new products. Whether creating new content “mash-ups” out of existing content repositories or ensuring consistency between publications that share information, content re-use is a powerful capability allowing content to achieve its maximum value. XML provides an anchor for coping with a diverse and expanding number of channels.

Download our latest white paper, "Make XML a Solution Instead of a Challenge."

XML - content management for publishers

Topics: content management, CMS for publishers, publishing, CMS, XML

Principles matter - A successful CMS implementation for publishers

Posted by Lisa Bos on Mar 25, 2011 2:42:00 PM

XML content management for publishersThe success of a CMS implementation is ultimately determined by thousands of individual choices made every day by team members - developers, PMs, analysts, and so on. Many of these choices are based on design principles with which business managers might strongly disagree but of which they are often unaware. Occasionally one of these decisions has inordinate impact - a complexity of design that results in a complexity of implementation, testing, and maintenance that is radically inappropriate relative to the value of the feature in question.

Managers who aren't deeply engaged with their teams tend to over-simplify such discussions by saying things like, "So-and-so engineer always makes things more complicated than they need to be." It's true some engineers are hard to manage (and that some managers start almost every new project with unrealistic expectations, and that some users won't give up complicated requirements). But I believe this difference in philosophy is also in play, and a PM or other manager would do well to understand and talk about how a team's varying philosophies impact its members' choices, and where change might be in order.

An interesting article on this topic by Eliot Kimber is here.

Such discussions might seem esoteric, but they absolutely are not.

Topics: publishing, CMS, publishing industry, XML CMS, project management

Learn XML Schemas and DTDs in 5 minutes

Posted by Christopher Hill on Mar 22, 2011 12:56:00 PM

In my previous blog post I introduced XML in 5 minutes. As a follow up, here's another 5 minute lesson to understand what an XML Schema or DTD is and what it might mean to end users of XML-based systems.
In the previous post we created an XML document to describe a book. Recall that it used tags around the actual content to describe the content.
     <title>Alice's Adventures In Wonderland</title>
     <author>Lewis Carroll</author>
     <summary>This book tells the story of an English girl, Alice, who drops down a rabbit hole and meets a colorful cast of characters in a fantastical world called Wonderland.</summary>

We also learned how representing content in this way allows us to dramatically reduce the effort required to support multichannel publishing. It also helps a great deal with automation and moving content between systems or organizations as it eliminates some of the issues of file formatting.
What would happen to our stylesheet if someone decided to use different tags to label their content?
     <title>Alice's Adventures in Wonderland</title>
     <writer>Lewis Carroll</writer>
     <summary>This book tells the story of an English girl, Alice, who drops down a rabbit hole and meets a colorful cast of characters in a fantastical world called Wonderland.</summary>

What we called author in one document we called writer in another. This inconsistency might be small now, but if we didn't restrict what people named things in our XML we would have to support a potentially endless list of tags. In the previous article we wrote rules for how to make our books look good on a page. If we can't predict what tags (labels) people are going to use - such as author - then it becomes nearly impossible to reliably write rules.
So even though XML helps us get a consistent base format for content, we need more help to get predictability and consistency.
Enter the concept of a DTD or Schema. DTDs and Schemas are ways that systems can impose rules on the XML itself. You can describe what tags can be used, where they can be used, and put restrictions on the content of those tags. There are two different standards for describing these restrictions: Document Type Definition (DTD) and XML Schemas. We won't get into the syntax or pros and cons of the two approaches. For our 5 minute lesson we can just assume they both are ways to enforce consistent labeling of our tags in our XML documents.
Here in English is how we might communicate the requirements for our flavor of XML:
  1. Put everything inside a book tag. You can only have one of these.
  2. The first thing you put in a book is a title tag containing the title text. You cannot leave this out.
  3. The second thing you put in a book is an author tag containing the author name. You must have at least one author. If there are more, you can repeatedly add more tagged authors.
  4. After all the tagged authors, you can add a summary tag. This is optional - leave it out if you want. But you can have at most 1 summary.
This is essentially what a DTD or XML Schema does, although they do this in a language friendlier to computers.
DTDs/XML Schemas allow you to specify the rules for the structure of your XML documents
You can think of XML Schemas or DTDs as a means to create a template that all valid documents must follow

These rules can now be applied to the two examples above. The first example follows the rules, so we would say that the first XML document is valid. That means it conforms to the rules. The second document, when tested with the above rules, would be invalid. The presence of tagged content labeled "writer" is not allowed by the rules. 
In the XML world, XML Schemas or DTDs are used in a lot of scenarios, including:
  • XML editors know what is allowed by the rules and prevent writers from making mistakes
  • XML programs test incoming content and indicate when the rules are being broken, preventing formatting errors
  • XML stylesheets can be much more easily written as they only process valid content and don't have to worry about rulebreakers
  • If I want to merge my book content with yours, we can look at the rules and decide what adjustments will need to be made to bring our rules together
  • Industries can agree on the rules for types of content. So we might create a set of rules to represent newspaper articles, adopt it as an industry standard, enabling anyone to easily exchange newspaper articles without having to modify the content.
So when you hear someone rambling on about an XML Schema or DTD, they are really just talking about the rules governing how the particular XML document is to be structured.
That's XML Schemas and DTDs in 5 minutes. In the coming weeks watch the blog for more quick lessons on XML-related technologies.

Topics: publishing, XML, XML Schema, DTD, 5-minute-series

Learn XML in 5 Minutes!

Posted by Christopher Hill on Mar 15, 2011 8:24:00 PM

As product manager for an XML-based CMS, often I find myself answering the question "What is XML?" Not necessarily a simple thing to answer in passing - entire books and courses are dedicated to the subject - but in about 5 minutes most content creators can at least understand at a basic level what XML is all about. Here is my 5 minute XML class to give a first pass at answering this question. At the end most people should have a rough idea of what XML is and can start thinking about its potential.
Take a look at the following text:
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
This book tells the story of an English girl, Alice, who drops down a rabbit hole and meets a colorful cast of characters in a fantastical world called Wonderland.
Reading it, you probably can infer that the underlined text is a book title. The italicized text appears to be the author of the book (if you dropped the word "by"). Then there is additional text. If you are familiar with the book, you can tell that the text is not part of the book itself, but appears to be a short summary. We know all of this because of certain conventions we have been taught as well as contextual clues provided by the words themselves.
Let's look at the same text again:
Lewis Carroll
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland
This book tells the story of an English girl, Alice, who drops down a rabbit hole and meets a colorful cast of characters in a fantastical world called Wonderland.

Even though the text looks quite different, we probably could still successfully interpret the author's intent. Now, imagine you have to train a robot to understand these two cases. What rules might you create to "teach" the robot how to decide how to successfully parse these two text examples and understand what parts of the text are titles, author names, and summaries? Even for these two limited cases, the list of rules is going to be quite involved, and will include rules based on formatting, language, and convention. And a robot will have to know that somewhere in the text are the three pieces of content, otherwise it probably has little chance of determining the nature of what it is looking at (Darwin the Jeopardy-playing supercomputer excluded).

Even if all that was true, errors are likely to creep in. Do your rules allow the robot to understand that "by" is really a formatting cue indicating the following text is an author name? What about the meaning of an underline? Bold? Italics? Each example uses the same formatting cues but in different ways. 

When you write a document in a word processor or a desktop publishing program you mostly focus on how that text looks. Imagine after all that careful work making the text look right for your printer, you decide your content should appear on a Web site. Suddenly all that formatting needs to be re-worked to take advantage of the conventions of the Web. Now if you want to deliver to an electronic reader or a mobile phone your formatting may again need to be revisited. 

This is an expensive proposition when you start imagining all of the possible delivery channels that may require formatting changes. For many channels, all that formatting work needs to be scrapped and done again. 

The answer to this is XML: the extensible markup language. A short way to summarize the promise of XML is that it allows authors to indicate what the content is rather than how the content looks. XML does this using tags, essentially text-based labels that indicate what a particular piece of data might be. Here is the same example as XML. Even though you may not know anything about XML, you can make sense of this content.

<title>Alice's Adventures In Wonderland</title>
<author>Lewis Carroll</author>
<summary>This book tells the story of an English girl, Alice, who drops down a rabbit hole and meets a colorful cast of characters in a fantastical world called Wonderland.</summary>

Yes, angle brackets seem a little cold, but notice how they are labels making the meaning of the various pieces of text completely unambiguous. Notice how each tag (i.e. <book>) has a match (i.e. </book>). These pairs create a container. Everything appearing between matching tags is considered contained by them.

Now, imagine you want to deliver the content to a printed page, web site or mobile device. It is much easier now to write a set of rules that indicate how each should be formatted.

Rule for <book>:
start a new page
Rule for <title>:
one the first line, output the text as underlined,16 point Helvetica
Rule for <author>:  
start a new line, output the text in italic, 12 point Helvetica
Rule for <summary>: 
double-space, start a new line, output the text in 12 point Helvetica

These rules could be called a stylesheet. In reality, stylesheets are written in a more machine-friendly format that are beyond the scope of a 5 minute XML course, but this example should suffice to give you an idea of what a stylesheet's role in creating presentable XML content is. 

If I had hundreds, thousands or millions of book content items I could use this single stylesheet to output them all and be guaranteed consistency. 

If I decide I want to switch to a new look for my content, maybe using Garamond instead of Helvetica, then I just need to modify the stylesheet. Notice how the original book content exists completely independently of the formatting. And notice that changing the look of something doesn't require any editing of the original content.

Suppose I want to deliver my content to multiple channels. Each channel has its own conventions, limitations, and capabilities. People expect different formatting on a mobile phone than on their desktop computer. A web site typically looks different than the printed page. We used to underline book titles in print - but underline means something else on the web so often a different format is used. Helvetica may not even be an available font for many channels. 

Fortunately, XML makes supporting each unique channel straightforward. Instead of endlessly modifying my content, I simply develop new rules (a new stylesheet, or a variation of an existing stylesheet) for a new channel. The authoring process is unaffected. Existing content does not need to be re-edited to support the new channel. Instead, the new rules are applied to the content generating channel-appropriate output. And as the number of channels expand, XML serves as a content anchor point so that you can adapt content rapidly and in an automated way to the unique requirements of each channel.
XML as an anchor for multichannel publishing

If all of your content were clearly labeled by what it is, it is not nearly as daunting to support new output formats for new opportunities. Instead to a massive conversion of all your formatted content from one format to another, you just have to develop a new set of rules and you are ready to go.

That's XML in 5 minutes. At least as it impacts content creation and delivery. In the coming weeks I'll be posting additional quick lessons on XML-related technologies.

Topics: ebooks, publishing, XML, 5-minute-series

SharePoint: When did free begin to cost so much?

Posted by Barry Bealer on Mar 11, 2011 9:58:00 AM

when did free cost somuchI ran across an interesting blog post by Stephen Arnold who is a longtime industry analyst and consultant that spells out the hidden costs of a SharePoint implementation.  The post is here.  While free always looks better than paying for software, I think Stephen hits the spot with his assessment.  A free software framework such as SharePoint is great if you plan to keep requirements very simplistic.  As we all know from our own experiences with implementing content management, that is easier said than done.  If you have more complex requirements, maybe a packaged solution such as RSuite makes sense.  Your company's approach to projects, culture to build versus buy, and several other factors need to be considered before selecting a technology and embarking on a content management project.  Whatever approach you take, just be cognizant of hidden costs as Arnold pointed out.  Free software does not always mean it will be cheap to implement and maintain in the long run.

Topics: content management, Sharepoint

Are publishers working too hard to create PDF and eBooks?

Posted by Marianne Calihanna on Mar 9, 2011 4:42:00 PM

Visit us at Publishing Business and Expo We recently hosted a great webinar titled, "The Digital Integration: Your Content Anywhere, In Any Format, Anytime." We learned that a large number of publishers are still struggling with how XML fits into their organization.

While we view XML as the primordial soup in the publishing world, the reality is that a large number of publishing organizations do not have an XML early (or XML at all) workflow.

We can help.

Schedule a meeting with us at the nation’s largest event for book and magazine publishing executives: Publishing Business Conference and Expo and let us show you how some of the leading publishers are using RSuite and RSuite Cloud to stay ahead of the digital revolution.

Hint: XML is involved but you don't have to tell any of your authors or editors!

Topics: content management, publishing, XML, conference, Publishing Business Conference and Expo

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