Going the Distance: How to Establish Content Quality

At Inkling, we believe there’s no reason for digital content to be any less meticulously crafted than the print version, and yet, oftentimes, it can be enormously difficult to maintain that same high level of quality across all digital products and outputs. In this new series, written in collaboration by a team at Inkling dedicated to solving that question, we’ll be exploring the concept of content quality: what it is, why it’s important and how to achieve it in an ever-more fragmented digital world of seemingly competing formats and standards. 

The Challenge of Digital Content Quality

Since setting type in printing presses, people have been publishing content to be consumed by the masses. And ever since those earliest days, ensuring that content was free of errors and easy to read was a top concern. Yet what was once a matter of just minding one’s Ps and Qs has evolved to include minding one’s 0’s and 1’s, too, in the world of digital content where we arguably face even greater challenges to content quality than ever before. Now, content quality includes everything from eliminating editorial flaws such as missed punctuation to highly enhancing a title with intuitively navigable links and multimedia.

For example, content can theoretically be updated in real time so that errors never have to linger–but when does this happen, who does it, and what standards and workflows are applied? Or, in another case, text and images can now be supplemented with interactive enhancements like video clips and games, but each enhancement requires support across formats, each with their own parameters. How do you find a layout that adapts comfortably both to a screen no bigger than the palm of your hand and to a large, pixel-dense desktop display? And let’s not forget about the end user. How do we enrich the reading experience without overwhelming our users and distracting them from the content itself? The demands on content creators–and the room for errors and mistakes–grow with every new device and layout.

Managing Content Quality from the Start

At Inkling, our approach to this ever-changing world of digital content creation is known as “future-proofing.” Over the last few years, we’ve worked hard with major publishers to create high-quality, durable content–content that only has to be built once and in such a way that it can adapt to any platform or device, both now and in the future. The ability to create once and publish everywhere is a critical step forward for publishing. When you can create once and publish everywhere, content production then becomes more efficient: developers spend less time rebuilding content for different platforms and reacting to new specifications, and editors and content creators spend less effort “dumbing down” the content overall to the least functional output channel. Instead, content development teams can focus their attention on more important issues, such as interactivity, overall quality, and empowering their end users.

Indeed, at Inkling, when we talk about high quality digital content, we are not just focusing on great design or engaging interactivity. We believe that the stray periods, unsupported fonts, and wonky formatting that often plague digitized content are as important as interactive enhancements and high-resolution images to the reader experience. But when typical conversion software labors to bring fixed-format printed pages into reflowable digital outputs, these errors are a common occurrence. On the one hand, untreated errors are distracting to users and can affect their trust in the fidelity of the source. On the other, for content developers, those errors can prove very tricky to catch in a sea of characters both on the electronic “page” and in the underlying code that controls the styling and functionality. For address both of these concerns, the team at Inkling has focused on developing digital production workflows that place an emphasis on the whole, while still leaving us the ability to hone in on a single error.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss how we’ve developed ways to tackle these issues through tools that embrace digital, using the predictability of a markup language as a way to establish patterns that can then yield errors. With a few key principles alongside tools such as Inkling Habitat, content developers can create high quality content at scale without sacrificing design, editorial integrity, or functionality.