2018 Conference

Give content contributors the AX, or Authoring Experience!

Presented by Nikki Massaro Kauffman

Web developers, designers, and content creators focus a lot on user experience, or UX. It impacts everyone who visits our websites. But one audience we don’t spend much time and energy on is the gaggle of content contributors we rely upon to make the day-to-day updates, to write the articles, and to get our images, our audio, our text, our content of all kinds online.

We need to put more thought into the author experience, or AX, as it impacts these contributors.

“Attack of the Undead Content” is how Nikki talked about the stale material on many sites. It grows not because we’re lazy, but because there’s so much out there to manage—and because so many of the people we rely upon to maintain it are doing so on the margins. It’s often the “5 percent other duties as assigned.”

Part of the problem is the author experience. Almost no matter what content management system (CMS) we’re using on our campuses, the user interface hasn’t changed in years. We’re saddling our content contributors with a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) WordPress or Drupal or CommonSpot editing mode that has barely changed in years.

Believe it or not, that editor not only looks suspiciously like the standalone programs such as DreamWeaver and Microsoft FrontPage of years gone by, but bears a striking resemblance to precursors like the Microsoft Word of 1998. And when you get right down to it, it looks much like the original mass market WYSIWYG word processor—1984’s MacWrite.

The much-hyped new authoring environment coming to WordPress, known as Gutenberg, has drawn criticism for taking a huge step back in accessibility.

These editing tools generally let users switch from a “user-friendly” view to peek at the underlying code. All too often, the code does a lousy job of meeting the standards of the semantic web, the hierarchical structure at the very core of the original HTML design. This is important because content written with appropriate semantic tagging (such as suitable heading levels) is portable. It can be published on the web, repurposed in a magazine, or what have you, with little additional editing.

Nikki Massaro Kauffman presenting at HighEdWeb 2018What’s the solution?

Nikki believes we’re expecting too much of our CMSs; we shouldn’t count on them to create a modern authoring experience. Our content creators deserve an authoring interface that gets out of their way and lets them create beautiful content. She said it’s time to decouple the authoring interface from the CMS.

A headless authoring experience, or HAX, could get us much closer to what the user interface designers of 20 or 30 years ago believed in: tools that get out of the non-technical user’s way and just let them create.

“Every user, content author, or visitor deserves a place at the table,” Nikki said. She welcomes us to join her at,,, and or get in touch at

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By Mark H. Anbinder

Mark is the Web Communications Manager in Cornell University's Campus Life Marketing & Communications Office. He works in higher education to pay for his fine food and beverage habits, hockey travel, and dog treats, and publishes 14850 Magazine all about Ithaca.

Find Mark on Twitter at @mhaithaca and his dogs on Instagram at @mhapuppers.