Content modelling – is it the future?

Stephen Evans
Friday 22 September 2017

One of the main lessons from IWMW 2017 was the need to focus on content not websites. It is no longer sufficient to expect users to find information just via the University website as content is being accessed by an ever increasing variety of digital devices and methods.

The following is a summary of how content modelling can be used to understand the structure of the content and the relationships between them so that it can be agnostic of the distribution method.

What is content modelling?

It is not a site map showing the structure of a website, or a diagram showing how content should be set out on a page. To move beyond pages and websites the model has to be agnostic of the initial context (see what is content modelling by Clive Gibbon).

Content modelling is the process of creating definitions of each element of a content type and their relationships to each other. The relationships can be documented using approaches such as mind mapping or capturing more detail in a spreadsheet. There is an excellent article about content modelling on A List Apart that gives an example of a simple diagram describing content types on a music website:

Content model example

A model like this helps users and designers to think about how the content would be used and the sort of information that would need to be stored for each type. It helps to clarify requirements and encourages collaboration.

There are no absolute rules for what a model should look like. However, there are guidelines and best practices from other disciplines that can provide help, for example Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy (Voices That Matter).

What does this mean for the University of St Andrews?

The University currently has information stored in multiple locations and in different formats. A lot of the information is trapped in HTML code or in databases that are not connected to each other. Freeing the content up so it can be re-purposed in different ways is a complex and daunting task, but content modelling is something the University will need to take seriously in order to future proof its information.

First steps

The starting point for St Andrews is to:

  1. Audit the content we have.
  2. Determine where the content is located.
  3. Identify what the content could be used for.

Once this is done we can start modelling how the content should be structured regardless of how it is currently managed, then plan the technical requirements to get the information from single sources.

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