The Importance of Metadata in Content Management

6 minute read
Troy Allen avatar

One of the biggest hurdles in implementing an effective ContentManagement application is to establish a usable Metadata Model.Having arepository of data that users cannot search and access information fromis no better than storing data on a simple file system. Let's look at some common models, in particular Dublin Core.

Content Management, no matter what type of content, requires a strong Metadata model and Security model to ensure correct management of objects and true usability.

The Importance of Metadata in Content Management

To put it simply, Metadata is a set of fields and values used to describe and categorize content and managed objects.As a general rule, Metadata is key to these functions:

  • Search -- Users will often want to search for key data associated with a file such as an Author, Date Published, Key Words, Topic and so on.
  • Distribution -- Values associated with content are often used by applications to determine when and where content will be distributed or shared too.
  • Access -- Security applied to managed objects are often part of the overall metadata model.Applications that filter the metadata model during distribution are actually applying a light level of security in terms of delivering targeted content based upon business rules matching metadata values.
  • Retention -- Most Records Management applications rely upon content metadata when performing retention rules.

Metadata Standards

When evaluating taxonomies and metadata models, organizations should first look to see if there are any standards that external parties require them to use when sharing data.For example, organizations dealing with the US Department of Justice, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Health Information Knowledgebase or the US National Cancer Institute will more than likely need to adopt the ISO/IEC 11179 standard.

There are standards available, and sometimes required, in almost every kind of industry.The following are a few of the most common standards:

  • Archiving and Social Science
    • Data Documentation Initiative (DDI)
    • Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)
  • Archiving
    • Encoded Archival Description (EAD)
  • Arts
    • Categories for Description of Works (CDWA)
    • Visual Resources Association (VRA Core)
  • Biology
    • Darwin Core
  • Book Industry
    • Online Information Exchange (ONIX)
  • Data Warehousing
    • Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM)
  • Ecology
    • Ecological Metadata Language (EML)
  • Education
    • Learning Objects Metadata (IEEE LOM)
  • Geographic Data
    • Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM)
  • Government/Organizations
    • E-Government metadata Standard (e-GMS)
    • Global Information Locator Service (GILS)
    • ISO/IEC 11179
  • Images
    • NISO MIX Z39.87
  • Librarianship
    • Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC)
    • Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS)
    • Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS)
  • Media
    • PBCore
  • Music
    • Music Encoding Initiative (MEI)
  • Network Resources
    • Dublin Core
    • Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
  • Records Management
    • ISO 2308

Dublin Core is a Common Model for Content Management

For traditional corporate Content Management, many organizations adopt a version of the Dublin Core model which is one of the most well known and established standards.The essence of the Dublin Core states that content will be described by metadata that:

  • Address Functional Requirements -- The main repository or any application that connects to the repository for managed content will be performing specific tasks.Metadata should be constructed to address these functions.As an example, content may be called from a Web App which may have certain search and security requirements.
  • Develop A Domain Model -- A domain model is a description of the things the metadata model will describe and the relationship between those things such as a person or author is described by a name, location and email address.
  • Define Metadata Terms -- Metadata terms are the properties that describe the things in the model.For example, a press release would have a title, release date, author and topic.An author can have a name, location or address and email address.

When designing a model using this approach, there are many dependencies that need to be addressed and it can be difficult to keep them organized.Before an organization begins to build their model, the following guidelines can help to keep this manageable and usable:

  • Minimize the number of metadata fields for a type of content -- When users are presented with a large number of fields that they have to enter data into, they will find ways to avoid filling them out.Users are usually in a hurry and just want to get their files into a repository.Make their tasks more streamlined by only asking them to fill out a few important fields.
  • Avoid “Nice to have” fields -- Organizations can easily fall into the trap of having too much data describing their content that isn’t need or will rarely be used.For example, I had a customer once who wanted a metadata field for capturing the font type used within the managed document.Since the customer was not a “Publishing House”, there was no need to store this data and it would have just been an extra field for the end-user to fill out.
  • Create a Global set of fields -- Every department within an organization will have specific metadata requirements for their own business needs, but there should be a well defined set of cross-organization fields that any user can search on to find content.
  • Use Pre-defined lists when possible --Free form metadata fields are notorious for user error and poor searching.

The following is an example of building a Metadata model, loosely derived from the Dublin Core methods and keeping the above guidelines in mind:

Learning Opportunities

Metadata Model for Managed Email Repository

Requirements:Allow users to search for emails based on standard email attributes in addition to priority classifications.Require users to supply pertinent metadata values during check-in procedures to ensure search ability.

Domain Model:

Managed Object -- Emails

  • Content Type -- Email
  • Responsible Parties
    • Sender
    • Recipient
  • Priority
    • Level
    • Type

Metadata Terms and Fields:

  • Content Type -- Emails (Auto Selected)
  • Receive Date -- (Date Field)
  • Sent Date -- (Date Field)
  • Subject -- (free form field)
  • Sender -- (free form field)
  • Recipient -- (free form field)
  • Priority Type – (predefined list)
    • Value 1 -- General Correspondence
    • Value 2 -- Legal Correspondence
    • Value 3 -- Sales Correspondence
    • Value 4 -- Human Resource Correspondence
  • Priority Level -- (Predefined list)
    • Value 1 -- No action required
    • Value 2 -- Immediate action required
    • Value 3 -- Management action required

Final Thoughts

For an organization which will manage many different types of content within the repository, each content type might have its own structure.Mapping out the requirements, domain and terms will help to keep information organized, allow administrators to see duplicate fields, and asses what is absolutely needed and what is extra data that is being stored.

Modeling like this can take anywhere from a week to several months depending on the size of the application(s) involved, type of data being managed and size of the organization.

About the author

Troy Allen

Troy Allen originally starting working with Content Management technologies in 1998. During his career, he was one of the first pre-sales engineers for IntraNet Solutions, which later became Stellent.

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