Raising our publishing game

Digital never stays still. Consultant web developer Rich Higgins looks at how we’ve been prototyping to ensure we don’t get left behind.

There’s a lot of content to publish at a university. Course information, research stories, news, events… the list goes on. On top of that, media consumption and audiences are increasingly varied and global. Digital is more important than ever, but what do we mean by digital? 

“Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”

Tom Loosemore’s oft-quoted definition suggests more than just reading from a computer screen instead of a printed article. It suggests we need to raise our game to meet the ever-evolving user needs of our time. And at Bristol we’ve been looking at doing precisely this. 

One raised expectation is speed. Users expect to access digital content quickly regardless of location, device, network connection (if indeed connected). We’ve been prototyping with tools like Gatsby JS (to build the fastest possible website), Netlify (to quickly and easily deploy securely and globally) and Algolia (to provide fast and accurate search results). 

The expectations of content publishers themselves also need consideration. Speed and autonomy are taken for granted when using social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, so publishing software needs to be just as effortless. We’ve been prototyping with API-first cloud publishing service Contentful to provide editor-friendly content infrastructure capable of underpinning multi-channel digital communications. 

 Using this kind of architecture (known as the JAMStack) gives us several benefits:  

  • The decoupling of code, content management and platform gives us flexibility if we need to change one element 
  • Static sites come with some big security and speed advantages 
  • Using software as a service (SaaS) removes maintenance overheads and allows a leaner team to focus on refinements and ultimately to create better user experiences. 

 Finally, we’ve also been looking at our content production workflow which in a university (like in most large organisations) can be a complex beast.  

Post-it notes
Mapping the prospectus content workflow

Fortunately, tools like GatherContent can help tame that beast and save authors and editors precious time. Again, the API-first nature of GatherContent benefits us here, allowing us to push content into Contentful and opening up the possibility of automating print workflows – saving artworkers from tedious and error-prone cut-and-paste-a-thons. 

In combination, these tools and services provide a great platform on which to iterate and learn quickly. At the moment we’re only prototyping these, but so far we’ve been really excited with the results. We’ll be sharing more news on progress over the coming months. 

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