November 23, 2023

A Visual Guide to Content Reuse

image shows spheres connected together

A CCMS is many things (as discussed frequently on this blog, e.g. here), and the reasons for using one varies. One main driver, however, is the possibility to create content in modules (or components, which, of course, is the leading ‘C’ in CCMS).

The return on investment for content modularization is easy to calculate and understand. If there is an update due that takes one hour for one author, applying it in ten places takes ten hours. Add reviewers and translators to that estimate, and the cost inflation accelerates quickly. Thus, if that update can be applied in one place, cost is reduced.

Tools are one thing, process is another

Now, even with a strong CCMS at your disposal, content reuse is also a method of working that requires active participation. No matter how much the platform can reuse content, it won’t make a difference if everyone is writing their own version of the same thing from scratch.

So how can we tell if reuse is being applied, enabling that cost reduction?

In this post, we are going to explore and visualize the very beginnings of applied reuse, with the simplest mechanics applied: when text is identical to other text.

As we all know, text that is similar to other text is a research field of its own, but even with the simple comparison we can see quite drastic differences.

Visualizing content reuse with an interactive model

To be able to traverse a non-trivial content structure, we will use an interactive model¹ representing the structure. In the embedded models, blue nodes are publications, green nodes are topics, and red nodes are informal topics, and the lines describe how they are used in other nodes.

The models are interactive:

  • Scroll to zoom
  • Left click and drag to rotate
  • Right click and drag to pan
  • Click and drag on nodes to move them

¹ Using the 3d-force-graph library

No content reuse

For these illustrations, we will look at three documents, represented as they are when imported into Paligo. First, let’s take a look at what they look like if we import them without checking for identical content.

This gives us 1,352 components, or modules of content, and three individual link trees of how they are connected. You can zoom, pan, rotate, and even drag nodes to investigate further yourself.

Now, imagine a scenario where we are the owners and authors of these documents. We have a very strong suspicion that several of these are actually the same, because we know that templates and procedures have been used that encourage documents to be produced in a recognizable way.

Automatic reuse recognition

Now, let’s import those documents again, this time just checking to see if components are identical.

First, the data: This gives us 776 nodes, just over half of the total sum of the individual documents. To further clarify the point, the nodes are bigger the more they are reused. We can also see the three publications clustered in the middle, using the same topics. This may be because the introduction sections are always the same in the templates.

The node that sees the most content reuse directly is reused 12 times (and indirect reuse may be even higher). This node, consequently, exists in 12 individual copies in the structure without reuse.

If you are concerned about the complexity of accomplishing this when you migrate to Paligo, you can relax: This is a built-in feature when importing. 

These are just trivial examples, but the data is based on what we see in real scenarios. We have also seen copy reuse in larger frameworks, where a single node is reused hundreds of times, simplifying updates and maintenance. In some cases, reuse is used to propagate changes across multiple topics, making sure that all topics are up to date. Paligo permits you to effortlessly manage this type of reuse, enabling you to modify something in one spot and have the alteration replicated in the other topics.

For this example, we used only three documents to keep the visualizations accessible to the human eye, but it stands to reason that there can be dozens or hundreds of documents in your organization displaying the same patterns. Add to that the effect of also creating a workflow that further enhances reuse once you have your content in a tool that facilitates it (such as, say, Paligo) and the gains are even more significant.

The importance of reusing content is clear: It enables teams to rapidly create and maintain high-quality content more efficiently. It also reduces the amount of redundant content, which saves time and money. But this alone is not enough. It’s important to keep in mind that there is more to content reuse than simply copying and pasting from one document to another. You need to have the right tools and processes in place to make sure content is reused properly. That means having the right content management system and workflow to ensure content is always kept current, and that any changes are tracked so that you will always have content that is accurate and up-to-date.

If you want to learn more about content reuse, take a look at our interview and video on content reuse from Roger Gelwicks, which gives more detail about the process.