It seems I’m not the only one that doesn’t believe in the myth of unstructured content. Like Sasquatch, Santa Claus, and Ogopogo (CRTC mandated Canadian content), we’ve all heard about it, but have we really seen it? I mean really seen it? Not like some mirage or something. (You’ll notice I made no reference to peyote induced visions.)
The one type of unstructured content that comes most readily to mind is the document that contains text – uh, word processing documents. Even before we had word processors I’d still argue that text based documents had some structure; whether they were produced by a typewriter or written by hand makes no difference. Even that letter you write to Santa Claus every year has structure. Dates, salutations, body text, closing, … they are all structural elements of a document.
Remember those three-part memo forms the nice lady with the pointy brassiere used to fill out for the boss? The one that said “MEMORANDUM” at the top. Uhm, “MEMORANDUM” is a metadata value. And if metadata does not provide structure, what does?
“What about pictures, Uncle Chris? They don’t have structure.”
Yes, Julie, they do.
Digital photograph files are loaded with metadata, probably more than is really useful for most organizations or people. Even the old fashioned photos that had to be developed manually had metadata associated to them. The major difference was that the metadata was usually in the photographer’s or subject’s head. Think about those notes that many people wrote on the backs of their pictures. Think about the photography geeks talking about f-stops, exposure settings, zoom lens size, … Okay, I’m officially bored now (no offense to photography buffs intended).
Music, paintings, sculpture, even the human body; they all have structure (the lady next to me on the plane has really nice structure). My point is that everything can be described and categorized. Like much of what has changed, nothing has really changed except our ability/need to do things faster. For the most part we are doing the same things, just better. The big thing is that today we’re able to, relatively easily, capture metadata and store it in order to make better use of it. It has always been there, though.
Like most myths, the myth of unstructured content is likely born out of some factual occurrence, but distorted over time and telling. Whether the distortion is wilful or innocent is anyone’s guess.