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An Unstructured Content Rise


With the new breed of hardware mobility available the way and frequency with which we consume and interact with content has change dramatically. We now consume different types of content from different streams almost constantly from just about anywhere. A status update in Facebook or a tweet in Twitter must now be treated as content, especially when this is done through an official organisation channel. What differentiate this type of content from our traditional view on content is the interaction we receive from consumers.

Traditionally content management was seen as the management of unstructured data in an organisation. Although this is still valid, I think a broader definition is needed: “Content is any medium from which information can be extracted that improves the knowledge available to the organisation.” We also need to discard the source of the content as a way of classifying content, but rather differentiate content as structured and unstructured content.

Structured content

Managing and producing structured content fits best in the traditional content management mould. This type of content is easy to replicate and identify, fits well into business processes and indexing is done on functionality or business unit. Structured content is easy to measure and define.

Examples of structured content include:

  • Invoices
  • Application forms
  • Static web content

Structured content is easy to manage in any of the current content management systems, and it is easy to manage and find in an organisational wide folder structure.

Unstructured content

This is where the traditional way of doing content management is falling short. Unstructured content is dynamic and unique, and not easy to replicate or classify. Examples of this type of content includes:

  • Project related content
  • Research document
  • Tweets on Twitter
  • Status updates on Facebook

Unstructured content covers a grey area in the organisation, a research document outlining the ecommerce opportunities to expand your product base internationally will touch on a number of departments in your organisation. The indexing and classification of this content is more difficult, and your access around the document is a lot more involved. Social media is now all the hype, and it provides for a new level of interaction between organisations and customers. This interaction is in the form of unstructured content, and organisations will have to manage and response quicker going forward.

Changing consumption

Most content management systems are based on a solid object model, in-depth folder structure, content classification rules and an extensive security setup. This approach suits structured content well, but is slow and difficult to change to provide for unstructured content.

Then there is the question of access to the content, tablets and smart phones changes the way we want to access and interact with content. A folder structure will not work all that well on a smartphone, especially if you are looking for retweets on a product announcement six months ago. This is the level of content interaction we will have to provide for.

There is a couple of solutions available today that will provide a quick fix:

  • Full text indexing, content management systems already use indexing and searching, and users can access content through searching rather than browsing through a folder structure.
  • Tagging, we already use tagging in content heavy websites, WordPress is just one example. Using tagging in a content management system will make for a dynamic and easy way to navigate for content.
  • Collaboration, by better use of collaboration content related to specific groups will be easier to manage and control.

These will solve some of the challenges we will face, but not all of them.

Content tomorrow

I do think that to really manage the content of tomorrow, the foundations of content management solutions will have to change. The first change I would like to see is the database that support the system. An object relational database I think is the best way of handling content, it leans itself to content management, especially for unstructured content where the attributes between the same types of content can be vastly different. It will also be easier to create relationships between different types of content easier and will be more effective at case management solutions.

The second change I would like to see is that content is saved in a more generic way. Instead of saving the content, save the XML that represents the content. This will make the reuse of content easier and will future proof against new consumption technologies. It will also help the organisation to become more platform independent in its use of content.

Content management systems will also have to become more dynamic. The way that we design and implement content management systems has not really changed drastically in the last ten years. The Internet is changing the way that organisations will use and consume IT, and they will have to be more dynamic to make full use of these new technologies.

I think we are in for an interesting and bumpy ride, there will be winners and losers and a number of new players. But I do think it is going to be great, and the result that we will have in ten years from now is going to be much more of the total we have today. This change is not only going to be in the technology that I’ve touched on in this blog, but also in the attitude towards content in the modern organisation.

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