Three misconceptions content strategists have about metadata

As every content strategist knows, content needs management. Most often, content is managed by an IT system referred to — unsurprisingly — as a Content Management System, or CMS. Many content strategists also know that another technical tool helps to manage access to the content as well, something called metadata. But what metadata is, and does, it often not clear. I want to address three common misconceptions about metadata for web content. To understand how metadata is misunderstood, we first need to understand the purpose of metadata. Metadata exists so that computers can understand what the content is about, which allows these computers to deliver the appropriate content to audiences. Audiences are the ultimate beneficiaries of metadata, but they aren’t the immediate users of the metadata — computers are. When viewing content, audiences see text on the screen that looks like metadata, such as a label identifying a menu item or a descriptive field on a webpage. But what they are seeing may not actually be what computers are using to decide which content to deliver to the viewer. Some of the organisational elements that audiences encounter when viewing content are just styling as far as computers are concerned. What humans see and understand, and what computers see and understand, can be very different. Even if the content looks highly organised, that doesn’t mean that computers will understand that organisation. I want to qualify my prior statement about the purpose of metadata, to make it even more explicit. Metadata exists so that any computer can understand what the content is about. This is an important distinction. You may have a neat file structure in your CMS that helps you manage your content. But that doesn’t mean that other computers will understand what the content about. What makes sense to […]

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