Structured Content: The Next Generation of Web Content Editing Tools

WYSIWYG is dead.

If that statement caused a reaction—whether a frown of worry or a smile—then you’re probably one the people throughout Johns Hopkins Medicine who uses our WYSIWYG, short for “what you see is what you get,” tools to edit Web content. In reality, WYSIWYG isn’t by any means dead, but it is getting some gray hairs—and a new standard, called structured content, is ready to takes its place.

WYSIWYG tools are similar to word processing applications, allowing nontechnical users to create Web pages with images, headings, bullet lists, tables and more—without any knowledge of HTML or Web publishing. These simple pages are built, added to the navigation on a site and published. This process has worked pretty well and will continue to be a staple of editing for the majority of our users across the Johns Hopkins Medicine system.

That sounds nice­­. So what’s the problem? WYSIWYG is great for the way people used to access the Web—on a desktop computer. But the world has changed, and so has the best way to build Web pages.

Structured content is a new kid on the block, and it’s growing up fast. Structured content grew out of the need to reuse content and format it in many ways for different platforms and devices. Structured content uses a similar principle as WYSIWYG, allowing for nontechnical users to edit content, but it adds some interesting variants.

Unlike WYSIWYG content, structured content breaks down the content  into reusable chunks and classifies them into topics or categories. Examples of chunks are title, description and subheading. These chunks of data are then reusable in many other locations on the site. Structured content is designed for the way people experience the Web today.

The benefits of structured content are:

  1. Content repurposing. Through use of related content or taxonomies, we can reuse content in a variety of places on the site. An article about diabetes in a publication might be useful in the diabetes section of our Health Library, pulled into a health topic site, such as healthy aging, or even associated with a physician’s profile.
  2. Ready for responsive design. Web pages in today’s mobile world are by no means one size fits all; they need to fit many different screen sizes. So in reality, what you see is no longer what you get! But creating easy-to-use styles for responsive (mobile enhanced) design is not straightforward for the nontechnical user. With structured content, the designer has much more control over look and feel wherever the content is displayed.
  3. Scalability. Structured content can be thought of as a database of content, ready to be put to work wherever it is needed, in some cases even directly from external sites. It’s much more flexible than WYSIWYG.

At Johns Hopkins Medicine, we have been busy putting structured content to work. One of our team’s performance goals from our Johns Hopkins Medicine strategic priorities is to proactively engage global, national, regional and local audiences through innovative, cohesive and satisfying online experiences. Using structured content to support the reuse of online content and creating a valuable and cohesive user experience, no matter the device, certainly supports that performance goal.

We recently launched the new Healthy Aging website and a redesigned Hopkins Medicine magazine. Today, 30 to 40 percent of all traffic to these sites is mobile- or tablet-based, and structured content allows us to deliver a very consistent experience for those visitors.

So what’s next? Many of our structured content projects are focused around core website functions, like article-based publishing, consumer health content and our Health Library, supported by Department of Marketing and Communications staff and members of the Internet Strategy team. We continue to provide WYSIWYG environments for editors across the health system. For now, WYSIWYG editing is alive and well, but it hasn’t exactly stumbled across the “fountain of youth.” We’re continuing to explore opportunities to widen use of structured content to better achieve a growing number of strategic goals.