Why metadata matters

Metadata may not be terribly exciting, but it’s a business-critical part of making your organization work on the web.  Sadly very few organizations invest in it, let alone understand it.

The way you organize, store and categorize information matters.  It matters a lot.

After all, most organizations (and websites) are in the information services business. It’s all about finding ways to more effectively create, share, repurpose and distribute content.  Your ability to accomplish these goals depends entirely on the way content is organized and classified.

Attending SXSW Interactive this weekend, I was pleasantly pleased to see the Kicking Ass with Controlled Metadata session.  It fell in stark contrast to the typical SXSW topics heavy on user generated content, design and social media.

Most interesting to me was hearing Pandora CTO Tom Conrad talk about their approach to classifying the 600,000+ songs in the Pandora library.  He explained that Pandora employees a team of 45 trained musicians that painstakingly listen to each song and catalog it with more than 400 attributes.

These all get loaded into a database and are used to provide more relevant recommendations to listeners.  It’s a lot of work and terribly expensive, yet Pandora rightly justifies it as a necessary cost of doing business.

This classification system is a huge part of Pandora’s competitive advantage. It’s the secret sauce that drives the business and provides a high barrier to entry for would be competitors.

This is an important point to understand. The right approach to metadata can drive a sustainable competitive advantage.

Web content management projects are a natural time to reassess your approach to organizing and classifying content. To do this effectively, you need to think about content independent from the website structure, templates and creative.

It’s important to document how each of these content items will be modeled including their relationship between other content types. These are not lower-level activities to be done after you figure out the big picture thinking. They are fundamental to your overall user experience strategy.

It’s time for metadata to get the respect and attention it deserves.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

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  1. This post is waaaay more interesting than the sxsw session I’m currently in.

  2. Kenton Ward says:

    This is the perfect article about metadata – short but informative, thanks Jeff

  3. Julie Booth says:

    Great post and just at the time when I am struggling with a metadata strategy for an customized learning system.  Our strategy is to start with six categories and allow people to add tags as they find an asset in the library — hoping to build a folksonomy — for lack of a newer term so that people who use the system can define how it is searched. No time to add 400 attributes to each piece of content :)!

  4. Amanda Shiga says:

    Great post. Totally agree. We’re seeing more and more requests for dynamically assembled web content based on metadata – and some CMS products can do this much better than others.

    It’s an interesting and complex problem, as clients need to define taxonomies, folksonomies, controlled vocabularies, etc… and integrators need to figure out the right mix of CMS and custom application to serve the content in the best way possible.

  5. Omri Duek says:

    Are there no "third order of order" people here? Of course, there’s a fine balance between a flexible taxonomy and complete chaos.

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