I’m writing this post in Word, because I (sometimes) like to do things the hard way. Not that writing in Word is difficult, but moving the content into a CMS, LMS or any other app using a rich text input doesn’t always go as planned. Today I’ll share a story of how a single, commonly-used workflow crashed my startup.
In mid-2007 I founded a market analysis website focused on the intersection of the technology, media and entertainment businesses. This was in the shadow of the launch of the first iPhone, but even back then it was obvious where we were headed. Less than 18 months later we were the market leader in our region.
When I say “we”, I mean “me”. Copywriting, editing, syndication, marketing, SEO, business development, and building the CMS … I did all the things. Which meant I relied on automation to get the job done. But one process was immune to automation and it was the death of the startup.
A familiar story
If your product uses a rich text editor you may be familiar with the following story, if not personally then from your customers.
My content creation workflow involved writing and editing in Word, and then transposing the content into a CMS. That seemingly simple task was anything but. When the content was dumped into the editor, it retained all of Word’s formatting. Which broke site CSS, complex elements such as tables, lists, and so on. Meanwhile, removing formatting via an intermediate step such as a plain text app, added tens of hours of work each week replicating Word’s formatting in the rich text editor.
It is these hundreds of hours a year that could have been dedicated to growing my business, instead of fixing inline styles.
What’s surprising is that the scenario I described still exists today, and the fixes are not dissimilar to those used more than a decade ago. I am of course describing one of the most common workflows in use: copy and paste.
Let’s take a look at two common workflows.
Manually cleaning content
The first option involves cleaning content manually. Once content is pasted into the editor, the author needs to switch from a rich text view to a HTML view to remove Word’s inline styles. That’s if a code view has been enabled for the end user. If not, the author is out of luck. This also assumes the author even understands basic HTML.
If you’ve ever had to manually remove hundreds, or even thousands of inline styles before, you know it can be a slow and tedious process. It took me an average of 15 minutes per content object to fix inline styles. These were often large, complex documents and the process was clearly broken.
Remove all formatting, then add it back
For authors without knowledge of HTML—which is the majority—the second option is to copy content from Word into a plain text editor, such as Notepad or Notes, and then paste it into the content platform. Basically, a two-step copy/paste process.
For most authors, this is an easier task than manually cleaning HTML. It also has some disadvantages, the biggest of which is that any formatting created in Word (bold, italics, headings, links, tables) is discarded by the plain text editor. Formatting then needs to be rebuilt based on the Word document. It’s another tedious, back-and-forth process.
Just like manually cleaning the HTML takes a lot of effort. Authors need to set aside time in your schedule to manually add all your styles as well as recreate website links, and upload images.
Both of these processes have clear, quantifiable, negative impacts on productivity.
They said, “Change your workflow to deal with our broken code”
I have another story highlighting the real world impact of the copy/paste issue. It involved mismatched character encoding.
“If youâ€™ve ever …”
A little while ago, the Tiny team had an issue involving an online HR, hiring platform. We’d write job descriptions in Word, paste the content into the platform, which would then automatically post the content to third party job boards. Except that in the paste process, characters were miscoded in the underlying HTML. Our HR team didn’t see the error because it “looked fine on the screen”, but as soon as it hit the job boards, we’d see things like, “If youâ€™ve ever …”
I pinged the hiring platform advising them of the issue, and this was the reply:
“I suggest having them copy the content and paste into Notepad. Once they do that, have them remove all the special characters and paste back in. They will have to add formatting, but it should fix the weird characters from showing up. We usually tell people to type up their postings in Notepad first actually.”
In other words, “change your workflow to deal with our broken code.”
Not a good look for a technology company. So, um, no!
A solution to clean & stabilize content
Unlike the first two cleanup options, which require a lot of manual effort, expertise and/or time, the third option is to use solutions that automate the cleaning of Word content.
These didn’t exist back when I was running the startup (or if they did I didn’t know about them), and with the benefit of hindsight I’d have happily paid for a solution like Tiny’s “PowerPaste” solution. It is used by content professionals around the world for years and it’s a productivity secret weapon in their workflow. It’s also a competitive advantage for all of our customers.
PowerPaste automatically remove Word’s inline styles (the cause of styling problems in the first place), leaving valid HTML behind. In a sense, it’s like typing directly into the editor but with all the benefits that come from using Word. Most importantly, image imports are hugely simplified, and complex elements like tables and indented lists are rendered in valid HTML.
What’s in your workflow?
If as a developer, product manager or product owner, your customers use Word in their workflow and you’re interested in fixing the Word copy/paste problem, chat with our team. Who knows, perhaps it will become your content secret weapon too. I sure wish it existed when I was working 16-hour days trying to build a rocket ship.