Content structure: Philosophy

What’s the best way to structure your content?
When developing a website, at some point you will need to find an answer to this question. You probably already have some content in mind, written in a notebook or in files on your PC. If it’s on your PC, you might already be one step ahead because there will be already some kind of structure in the form of folders and files. But yet that’s not exactly what we are looking for.

Let us start at the beginning, what is structured content?
When you do a search on Google, the first thing it comes up with is a Wiki
. Quite ironical is the fact that this Wiki page seems to be an orphan, which means that no other documents are linked to it. In other words, it’s not structured. But still it has something to say:

Structured content refers to information or content that has been broken down and classified using metadata.

Now we have a new question: What is metadata?
Of course there’s also a Wiki page for metadata
which tells us that metadata is "data about other data". Now we’re getting somewhere.
If you’re not familiar with metadata, here’s a Bert and Ernie movie that explains it all:

What we have to do now is have a look at our content and define keywords for it. Unlike Ernie (the smooth bastard), we’ll need to define keywords that point to several of our content items. More important, we also have to think about future content. It’s not unlikely that you don’t yet have an idea of what the future will bring, so instead of defining your future content, you might want to create the possibility to easily add new items to the structure.
As an example, let’s say you are a veterinary medicine, and your specialties are cats and pidgins. So you want to create a website about this, and you create following specifications:

This will work just fine! Everything you write about cats will be classified under mammals, and everything you write about pidgins will be classified under birds. But then one day you start thinking about extending your business, and you start specializing yourself in dogs. Of course you want to write about this on your website. But where do we classify dogs? Also under mammals I guess. It does look strange to put cats and dogs together, doesn’t it?
What you’ll need to do now is split up mammals into cats and dogs, and you’ll have to add the new metadata to everything you’ve already written about cats.
What you should have done from the beginning is structure your data to a further level:

This way you could easily add an item dogs under mammals, next to cats.
Maybe you should have even gone further and divide cats into Siamese cats, Persian cats and so on. I have no idea which different types of pidgins exist, maybe I should have done some more research before writing this post, but I guess you get my point. It’s worth thinking about possible future content before you start creating your structure.

In a next post, I’ll get more down to earth and describe how we handle this technically, using CMS software.


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