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Have you ever tried to find a needle in a haystack? If you try to do it manually by sifting through the entire haystack by hand, unless you're incredibly lucky, you're bound to get frustrated, tired, and quite frankly, sick of the haystack by the time that you've done. But what if you had a giant magnet, one that could hover over the haystack and based on it's metallic properties instantly retrieve the needle? Aha! Much better user experience, right? Well, in the case of your CMS, metadata gives you the ability to allow users to retrieve the exact content they're looking for, even from hundreds or thousands of other pieces of content-- the real-life equivalent, if you will, of finding a needle in a haystack.
Metadata is simply data that helps to define or describe other data. It's data about data, if you prefer. In terms of the CMS, it's used to classify the content, so that it can be identified, categorized, retrieved, and related to other content. Now the term 'metadata' certainly is not new. It was first coined in 1968 and is loosely used to describe many different means of categorizing and identifying information, usually on the web. Its typical structure includes the object being described, the attribute the data is describing, and the value of the attribute itself.
If that's a little confusing, consider this example. Here, a blog post is being described. The author's name, or in this case the creator, is attribute, and Simon Allardice is the value. Now this post could be categorized, retrieved, and displayed based on this value. By adding additional metadata, you allow the CMS to know quite a bit about the content and then use that information to determine where it should be used, who can see it, answer requests for it, and a host of other functions. Since so much of the management of content within a CMS is dependent upon this type of data, the ability to define and add metadata is a critical function of any CMS.
Adding metadata is often referred to as tagging and is done in a number of different ways depending upon the CMS that you're using. In some cases, the CMS will add metadata for you automatically. This could include things like the time an article was published, the author's name, the title of the article or content segment, or the content's data type. For the most part, a CMS will automatically add the metadata it needs to perform its core functionality. So if the system has the ability to sort or display content based on date, you can be sure that the publishing date and time are going to be added for you automatically.
Now if on the other hand you want additional ways to describe your content, you'll need to add metadata manually. This is typically done as the content is being added to the CMS and is usually the responsibility of either the author, editor, or in some cases a system librarian. One of most common metadata workflows involves creating a series of tags, sometimes referred to as keywords, in the CMS's administration panel. Users can then select the tags, often by simply selecting a check box, to associate that keyword with the content.
For tags that need more information, a custom text field is typically used to allow the user to add data. This would allow a blog post to add a short description or summary as metadata, for example. Now the majority of CMSs have simple tools like this that allow you to add metadata to your content. In most cases, the supplied metadata tools or all you will need to properly add metadata to your sites, but in some cases--such as retrieving metadata from ingested media--you may need additional metadata tools. Fortunately, there are a large number of plug-ins and modules available for most systems they will extend your power to add metadata to your content.
Be sure to explore these features in addition to a CMS's core metadata capabilities when you're researching now. Although most people see metadata as a way to assist the CMS in searching for, retrieving, displaying, filtering, and generally managing the site's content, there are other uses for metadata as well. Properly structured metadata can be used to help search engines find and rank content, and assistive technologies can often use metadata to help users access greater information about your site's content. Because of the importance of metadata to your CMS, it's critical that every project has a clear and organized metadata strategy.
If one author created a keyword of 'cars' and other another created a keyword 'automobile', you would have two different authors creating similar content that the CMS might or might not associate with one another. Poorly planned metadata can result in you finding yourself once again looking for the needle in the haystack, just as fast as not using metadata at all. The goal for any metadata structure should be to describe the content as thoroughly and as efficiently as possible. When creating metadata for your site, you should first assess and inventory your site's content.
Try to anticipate what terms your users are likely to use when searching for content and list any related terms that can help categorize it. It's very easy to let this process get out of hand and result in hundreds of keywords that simply add unnecessary complexity to your site instead of the desired organization. Because of this, the process of identifying terms and defining metadata is often best done when planning taxonomies. Taxonomies are an entirely different subject and one that we are going to tackle in our next movie.
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