On Content Preview…

tags: content-preview

I’ve been spending some time with content preview lately, and I have a thought –

Do we always want perfect preview?

Don’t get me wrong – Opti CMS has been able to do pixel-perfect preview for a decade. Since v7 or so, you can edit content in-context, looking more-or-less exactly like it’s going to publish.

But, I’m starting to wonder if this is what every editor really wants or needs, all the time?

First, the actual delivery environment can be notoriously variable. These days, lots of stuff is rendered in the client based on the idiosyncratic nature of the request. The odds of what an editor sees in preview being what a visitor sees in production are less and less. (Yes, we can spoof audience segments and devices as well, but still, it gets complicated and we all know it.)

Second, lots of details are sometimes distracting. When I’m writing, I usually just want to “sort of” see what it’s going to look like in production, so I can get the gist of how it will publish, but I really don’t want to be overwhelmed by all the details. Lots of times, I’d rather just edit in some nice, clean form boxes.

Third, content often gets re-used after publication, in different channels and locations that can’t be previewed. Sure, we can show what it will look like in multiple channels, but what happens when someone copies and pastes it to syndicate to an industry news site? Is there some visual aspect you were depending on – that you saw faithfully rendered in preview – that doesn’t translate? Could over-dependence on preview make future usage of your content …brittle?

Fourth, not all content is visual. When I write an article, it’s basically words – it’s ideas, concepts, – dare I say it – feelings. The only visual elements might be list items and blockquotes? I’ll concede that something like a landing page is an entirely different story. But we need to acknowledge that not all content depends on how it looks – lots and lots of content depends on how it reads.

This is why, I maintain, lots of editors create content outside their CMS. And it’s another reason why we acquired Welcome Software a few years back and turned it into Optimizely Content Marketing Platform. I’ve been playing around with its preview system lately, and it can return multiple previews at different levels of “fidelity” to the published version.

Call me heretical, but I’ve created a personal preview level that’s “just enough” like production to let me read the content in that …mindset? But not enough like production that I start to obsess about the details, depend too much on channel-specific visuals, or lose sight of the fact that the value is in the words themselves, not how they’re rendered.

With Opti, we’ve developed what I’ll call “variable-fidelity preview.” It’s handier than you’d think.

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