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9.2. Content Mapping

During research and conceptual design, you are focused on the top-down approach of defining an information structure that will accommodate the mission, vision, audiences, and content. As you move into production, you complete the bottom-up process of collecting and analyzing the content. Content mapping is where top-down meets bottom-up.

The process of content mapping involves breaking down or combining existing documents into logical content components or chunks, thereby separating the content from its container. A content chunk is not a sentence or a paragraph or a page. Rather, it is the most finely grained portion of content that merits or requires individual treatment.

The content, often received from a variety of sources and in a multitude of formats, must be mapped onto the information architecture. Because of differences between formats, you cannot count on a one-to-one mapping of source page to destination page. One page from a print brochure does not necessarily map onto one page on the Web. For this reason, it is important to separate content from container, at both the source and destination. In addition, when combined with a database-driven approach to content management, the separation of content and container facilitates the reuse of content chunks across multiple pages. For example, contact information for the customer service department might be presented in context within a variety of pages throughout the web site. If the contact information changes, modification can be made once to the database record for that content chunk and then propagated throughout the web site at the push of a button.

In some cases, you will need to create original content for a web site. However, content mapping may still be necessary. It often makes sense to create content in a word processing application rather than an HTML editor, since tools like Microsoft Word tend to have more powerful editing, layout, and spell checking capabilities. In such cases, you'll still need to map the Word documents to HTML pages.

The subjective process of defining chunks should be determined by answers to the following questions:

  • Can this document be segmented into multiple chunks that users might want to access separately?

  • What is the smallest section of content that needs to be individually indexed?

  • Will this content need to be repurposed across multiple documents or as part of multiple processes?

Once the content chunks have been defined, they can be mapped onto destination web pages. You will need a systematic means of documenting the source and destination of all content, so that the production team can carry out your instructions. As discussed earlier, one approach involves the assignment of unique identification codes to each content chunk.

For example, creation of the SIGGRAPH 96 Conference web site required the translation of print-based content to the online environment. In such cases, content mapping involves the specification of how chunks of content in the print materials map to pages on the web site. For SIGGRAPH 96, we had to map the contents of elaborately designed brochures, announcements, and programs onto web pages. It would have been difficult and silly to attempt a one-to-one mapping of printed pages to web pages. Therefore, we needed to go through a process of content chunking and mapping with the content editor. First, we broke each page of the brochure into logical chunks or atoms of information. We devised a simple scheme tied to page numbers for labeling each chunk (see Figures Figure 9-3 and Figure 9-4).

Figure 9-3

Figure 9-3. Print chunks, to be mapped out as shown in Figure 9-4.

As you saw in Figure 9-1, we had already created a detailed information architecture blueprint with its own content chunk identification scheme. We then had to create a content mapping table that explained how each content chunk from the print brochure should be presented in the web site.

Figure 9-4

Figure 9-4. In this example, P36-1 refers to the first content chunk on page 36 of the original print brochure (Figure 9-3). This source content chunk maps onto the destination content chunk labeled 2.2.3, which belongs in the Papers (2.0) area of the web site.

Armed with the original print documents, architecture blueprints, and the content mapping table, the production staff created and populated the SIGGRAPH 96 Conference web site. As you can see in Figure 9-5, the contents of the web page are quite different from the original print page.

Figure 9-5

Figure 9-5. Because of the differences between the print and online media, the translation from print brochure to web site involved significant changes.

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