“Content is data in context.”
Don’t quote me on that. I didn’t say it. I don’t know who said it. To be accurate, I should say that I don’t know who said it first. Lately, whenever I hear that statement, it’s in the form of “They say, content is data in context.”
“They.” I suppose they are the people who are good with content. My forty years of experience tell me that there aren’t many of them. I think I know why. It’s the ‘context’ thing.
“A train leaves Washington, D.C. at 8:10 am, traveling to New Haven at 88 miles per hour...”
The dreaded word problem – that’s data in context.
The people who are good with content, want to tag that as: ‘travel’ ‘railroads’ ‘train’ ‘Washington’ ‘New Haven’ and probably ‘America’ and perhaps ‘Vermonter’ and ’56.’ The people who aren’t good with content, simply want to know when the train will arrive in New Haven.
They don’t like word problems.
They’ve never liked word problems and they were never good at separating the data from the relevant context – ‘relevant’ because Mr. Gadzooks, the Algebra teacher always included superfluous context to throw us off. You know, “John was boarding the train with two suitcases…” – and, let’s face it, in the real world, we just want the data and we don’t want to work for it.
The real world replaced the context of that statement with a timetable. Find your train. Look for Washington to see the departure time and then look for New Haven for the arrival time. Easy-peasy. Just like every spreadsheet in every organization. But, that was yesterday. Today, we have an app for that. Well, AMTRAK has an app, but so does the Metro North – which train are we on? Do we have that app? Is it up-to-date? Do we know how to use it?
It doesn’t matter. Apps are almost yesterday. Tomorrow, for many of us, today, we just ask Siri or Alexa or that Google girl “what time does the train get to New Haven?”
But wait, that wouldn’t work.
Siri, Alexa and, what’s the Google person's name? Oh, right, she doesn’t have one. That doesn’t matter either; they can’t answer that question. They need more information. They need the date. They need to know that you’re traveling on AMTRAK and they actually need to know that your leaving from Washington, D.C. They need enough data to put you in context – to put you on the Vermonter, AMTRAK Train 56.
Sure, they might be able to use your location and determine that you’re in Washington, but they still need to know when you want to travel, because the Vermonter is one of several trains traveling between those two cities, each day. They need enough information to put you in context so they can extract the relevant data from a database.
Alexa, Siri, the Google woman, and every other information system we use won’t always need as much information from you in the future, but only if we do our jobs well.
As Information Professionals, a.k.a. content people, we need to realize the new ways the information we collect, curate and store is being used. We need to create/support easy, consistent and reliable ways to extract data from the information while continuing to meet the traditional information management requirements that have shaped our industry.
The role of information is becoming more important. The demands on information systems are becoming more critical. The expectations of relevance, accuracy and availability of information are growing. We need to make sure information can meet the challenge.
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About today's guest poster - Dan Antion is the Chairman of the AIIM Board of Directors. He has spent almost 40 years developing information management systems, in a wide variety of industries. For the past 30 years, he has been Vice President, Information Services for American Nuclear Insurers, where he is responsible for data, content, and systems development across a broad range of platforms. His opinions do not represent American Nuclear Insurers, AIIM or the AIIM Board of Directors.