By Jake Sorofman, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development, North America and EMEA, JustSystems

image The emergence of Web 2.0 has created the expectation for community contribution and user-generated content. This has the potential to turn the traditional publishing model on its ear. Historically, publishing was a one-way street — information was pushed from one to many, with no “closed loop” mechanism to make it a two-way exchange. But the reality is that the individuals who are consuming and working with information out on the edges of the enterprise are the ones with the most critical experience and perspective to share — experience and perspective that needs to somehow find its way back into the publishing process.

Traditionally, publishing processes have been more like a monologue than a discourse, with no formal means to facilitate this two-way exchange. This is finally beginning to change, and it has profound implications for the publishing model we know today.

The rise of dynamic documents offers an interesting parallel for this transformation. What if documents were the basis for — not just information dissemination — but a fully interactive conversation between the content publisher and the content consumer?

As I’ve discussed before, dynamic documents provide a document-based user experience that delivers all of the goodness of documents — portability, persistence, rich-context, etc. But dynamic documents function like live applications — information is always up to date and the user experience is fully dynamic. This makes dynamic documents a perfect vehicle for capturing knowledge on the frontlines — experience, observation, best practices, tips, tricks and things to avoid are all impounded back into the publishing process from within the document itself. 

Of course this all sounds vaguely wiki-like, doesn’t it? What I’m describing certainly shares the same intent as a wiki, but wikis lack the structure required for reuse and efficient information management. While wikis activate the wisdom of crowds, they also have a tendency for trapping that wisdom in yet another silo, only further challenging reuse, control and knowledge management in general. Like a wiki, closed-loop publishing invites content consumers to become content contributors and editors. Unlike a wiki, however, closed-loop publishing brings community-generated insight back into a formalized XML-based publishing process.

By combining wiki-like capture with the structure and control of a traditional publishing process, organizations can:

  • Improve information accuracy, quality and value by ensuring content is continuously proved by the consumers who have the practical experience with it to know better
  • Reduce the cost of content maintenance by transferring some of the burden to content consumers
  • Improve customer intimacy and market awareness by capturing the voice and sentiment of customers, partners, employees, etc., and making that a part of the publishing process as well as the collective knowledge of the enterprise. Suddenly, organizations start seeing otherwise hidden patterns, trends, risks and opportunities surfacing within this conversation. And suddenly, the tech writer becomes one of the most market-attuned roles in the enterprise.

Scenarios for closed-loop publishing might include:

  • A telemarketer’s contribution of a compelling way to overcome a common customer objection
  • A maintenance technician’s notification of an incorrect procedure
  • A contact center representative’s report of a product defect
  • A customer’s gripe about the usefulness of a product manual

Issues, opportunities, problems and resolutions are all discoveries made at the edges of the enterprise which can all be captured and leveraged through the closed-loop publishing process. Organizations that miss this opportunity can pay a steep price in their understanding of the markets and constituencies they serve.

Closed-loop publishing holds a lot of promise, but organizations only pursue what they can see. The reality is that closed-loop publishing may be hiding in plain sight. They often say that creative solutions are merely making connections between things we already know — the application of known concepts to new contexts. In that way, Web 2.0 has taught us a thing or two about what publishing always wanted to become.

About the Author

Jake Sorofman is senior vice president of marketing and business development North America and EMEA for JustSystems, the largest ISV in Japan and a worldwide leader in XML and information management technologies. Contact Jake at