Differences Between Structured And Unstructured Web Content

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Discussion of the differences and benefits to managing content areas in a WCMS as structured environments versus managing them as unstructured areas (aka Big Square Holes)

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Differences Between Structured And Unstructured Web Content

  1. 1. Web Content Management – Structured vs Unstructured Content areas. In the WCMS marketplace there are typically two types of approach to managing the content areas within a web page. The first – and one used by most of the solutions that target the small to mid sized market place – is to create ‘unstructured content areas’ within a predefined template that users can populate with information. The second – and one used by most of the mid to enterprise level solutions – is to create ‘structured content areas’ within a predefined template (often referred to as content objects) that have predefined locations within the overall page template – which users can populate with content. This article aims to discuss the merits of each approach so that the customer can determine which is best for their requirements. Managing 'unstructured content areas' (aka Big Square Holes) Benefits a) Gives the overall impression of being easier to use by non technical staff, as they can take entire word documents and embed them into the page in one action (either via drag and drop or copy and paste) taking the same layout in the word document and transplanting it to the web page. b) Creates ‘big square holes’ of page real estate that can be freely populated giving the user much more freedom to format the layout of the designated content areas. Disadvantages a) There is no true separation of layout and content - which is arguably one of the core goals of deploying a WCMS. If users can take an unstructured document and embed their own chosen format into a page then the layout is not being separated from the copied content and the layout becomes controlled by the author. b) CMS solutions that create unstructured content areas often hide the fact that if a user is given the option to execute one function e.g. bold mark up or insert an image - then there is no way to restrict the user repeating this process ad infinitum throughout the entire page - so one page could be entirely H1 text with 30 images. c) Given the lack of controls over the layout of the unstructured area – more content is required to be workflowed which puts a work load on the approvers. d) Ironically CMS solutions that offer this approach are often accompanied with simple workflow tools that assume one workflow for all actions and do not have the ability to cater for parallel as well as sequential flows or offer e.g. escalation procedures. d) A word document is not the same as a web page - and the ability to take a word document and simply splat it into a web page often results in web pages that scroll for screen after screen. This reduces the usability of the content and also encourages the author to be sloppy by not editing the content to be appropriate for the medium (this becomes especially pertinent when web content is repurposed for e.g. for mobile devices such as a blackberry) e) CMS solutions that specialise in unstructured content management fail to demonstrate what happens when the client selects that a document will have no more than e.g. 1000 characters and a user copies and pastes the word document - the result is typically denial or a truncated migration. f) For customers wishing to achieve personalisation - CMSs that populate pages with unstructured content can only personalise whether a page can be seen or not - as its impossible to set up a business logic for content which is unknown in structure and formatting to anyway close to the same degree as can be achieved with structured content areas. Managing 'structured content areas' (aka Content Objects) Benefits a) True separation of layout from content - the customer can determine every aspect of the page design ranging from styles applied to each component to what can be embedded in which area of a page to permissions around the object itself - so that user one may be able to add content and not images before passing to user two who can add an appropriate image. b) Each object or component of the structure can have its own set of controls - in this manner a customer can elect that a headline can only use one style - whereas teaser text can have other options etc - relating back to the true separation of layout from the content – the customer has the total ability to determine exactly how a page will look - or present a user with a number of template options each of which is as controlled as the customer requires.
  2. 2. c) The ability to control content going into the content editing process reduces the need for extensive workflow as the approvers do not have to validate layout as well as content. d) As the templates can have layout and sizes that are appropriate to a web page - and any other output - the customer can absolutely control the multimedia output in a way which is very difficult to achieve with unstructured content areas. e) With structured content areas - the customer can take a web page and personalise to the 'nth' degree - so that each object within the structure can be controlled with permissions as to who can see it and who cannot - this is simply not possible with unstructured areas. Disadvantages a) As highlighted above, users are required to think less in terms of copying and pasting entire word documents into a page and more in terms of populating a structured content area with individual components. Whilst the ability to freely name the content objects and the ability to insert help text with each item alleviates a lot of the uncertainty, it goes without saying that this is not as easy as dropping an entire word document and seeing it replicated in the web page. Comparing the advantages of structured and unstructured side by side Structured Content Unstructured Content Editorial simplicity Editors concentrate on the Editors can drag and drop content itself and can largely whole documents onto one disregard layout as this is content area. For basic determined by the template. websites this is easier than Editors can drag parts of complying with predefined word docs or other office content areas being much content into object areas. less controlled. Separation of layout from True separation achieved Partial separation achieved content Style consistency This is enforced centrally Not as easy to enforce using templates and centrally as a ‘global view’ stylesheets and delivered to has to be taken. Content the content author as objects editors who are given the that each have their own set rights to use a formatting of permissions. option at any point on a page can do so repeatedly. Therefore style and layout is more in the hands of the editor. Layout Change management If the site style must change, Unstructured content areas this can be achieved simply cannot be given a format that by changing the relevant does not exist template / style sheet – the retrospectively. Layout objects will re-align to the around content area can be new layout automatically. changed, but unstructured area remains in new layout as previously presented. Accessibility This can be achieved and As more of the styling is enforced using style sheets controlled by the content and templates. Easier to editor, more reliance is on assign WAI guidelines to the editor or approver objects than unstructured understanding cumulative areas. WAI guidelines. Workflow Less complex workflow Greater requirement for needed due to ability to workflow needed to evaluate manage each object and its layout as well as content for associated formatting good copy to exist. Sites can parameters look ‘messy’ if workflow steps are avoided.
  3. 3. Reuse of “parts” of a page Structure means that content Unstructured means there is items comprise of a number no clear boundary between of parts, such as header, heading, image, table or abstract, main text, image, other parts of the created audio, video etc. Each of page, they cannot be reused these is secured and individually but only as a managed in its own right as whole. If there is a need for a objects and as a part of the teaser, index or reuse this whole page. This means that, must be achieved by creating for example, the heading, a copy of the relevant abstract and image may be content. Such reuse can reused on a “teaser” page, quickly degrade site quality index or elsewhere as change is a necessity and automatically and without changing duplicates to retain effort on the part of the editor consistency is a time or site manager. consuming, costly and error- prone process. Personalisation The structure allows the The lack of structure objects to be given profile prevents the creation of values and displayed or not personalisation rules that based on a persons rights or allow for more than a toggle role giving a very granular switch as to whether a ability to personalise person can or cant see a information content area in its entirety. Copyright notice: This document and the version available on the website and its associated content are copyright of quot;contentmanager.eu.comquot; © quot;contentmanager.eu.comquot; 2008. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following: • you may print or download to a local hard disk extracts for your personal and non-commercial use only • you may copy the content to individual third parties for their personal use, but only if you acknowledge the website as the source of the material You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

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