The Centers for Disease Control has spearheaded a program available to other agencies that automatically updates website content, making it easier and more cost-effective to keep information current.

The content syndication tool eliminates the cumbersome and time-consuming practice of emailing updates and changing website content manually.

“Syndication is a way to get web content out to other places, and make it available for reuse to other websites,” said Fred Smith, CDC’s technology team leader at the agency’s electronic media branch. “What we’re doing is making our web content freely available to anyone who wants it whether it’s the Ohio Department of Health or HHS.”

Other agencies, including the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, State and the Census Bureau have been consulting with the CDC and are considering using the system. GSA and the White House are looking at possible use across the federal government, Smith said.

CDC began developing content syndication in 2007. Several new federal public health sites adopted the automated system in the past year.

There are 9,000 pages of CDC content syndication available to health agencies, including the FDA, NIH, HHS and others are using the mechanism to add content.

“Content syndication has both increased the reach of our messages and recommendations and reduced the amount of content maintenance by our state and local health partners,” Smith said. “It assists the public health system to function more efficiently across multiple levels of government.”

Content syndication can make a big difference for federal agencies’ electronic communications efforts, said Sanjay Koyani, Acting Deputy Director for Strategy at FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

“By structuring government content and data via the content syndication API, federal agencies can make it much easier for the agency to update multiple digital channels with minimal effort from a common location (the API) versus doing it manually across properties,” Koyani said.

It also lowers costs because agencies are now centralizing updates via the open API enabling them to make updates once and have them occur across all syndicated properties, he added.

The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has been using CDC’s content syndication for nine months, pushing out content much more effectively, said Ann Aikin, digital media director at FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

“It’s saving us money and time,” Aikin said. “We’re learning from the experiences others are doing. We’re not recreating the wheel.”

Aikin said the center has been talking to the Pentagon about using the tool to grab its tobacco-free content and consulting with many state and local health organizations interested in promoting smoke-free policies.

“One of the big pieces of our mission is to educate people about the dangers of tobacco. This technology has a promise of extending the reach of our message,” Aikin said.

CDC, collaborating with HHS, has made its Content Services code, requirements documents, and interface documents available for anyone to download at SourceForge. They’ve also developed an instructional video (above).

Federal and state agencies can download the code and use it on their own, but are encouraged to become part of the CDC community.

Interested agencies can email CDC at [email protected] to join the project and receive information on updates and quarterly community meetings.

Smith offers the following tips for agencies interested in developing content syndication:

  • Investigate your technical options. Your WCMS may be able to be modified to syndicate your content and provide an API, without having to stand up a new system.
  • Start with a small number of pages on popular topics.
  • Work closely with a select number of partners to develop interest and gain experience.
  • Learn from the experience of others already syndicating content.