Screens, Research and Hypertext

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On Attributes

An attribute is the most basic level of stuff that a CMS database holds. It consists most fundamentally of two things:

A piece of data.

A label for that data.

In practice, attributes hold a bunch of other information (e.g., an internal name, a user-facing label, a datatype, and a UI interface). All those things are important for how your website is built, but they aren’t as important here, so we’re going to ignore them.

What matters for our purposes is that an attribute is a data point together with the full set of things stored with that data point (datatype, internal name, user-facing label, etc.).

Referenced in

Modular Content

Your CMS connects to a database, which is sort of like a really fancy spreadsheet. Built properly, your CMS will store each functional piece of content—an attribute in CMS lingo—in its own spreadsheet column. Better still, it’ll give each column a name that tells the CMS what that content does. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

The Essence of Briefs

If we take seriously the idea that an entity is a logically independent collection of attributes, and that two things with different attributes are different entities, then the answer is four.

Entities and Rhetoric

Entities define the attributes that make up a piece of content. Rhetoric is about the actual data contained inside those attributes.

Rhetoric, Content Types and the CMS

More confusingly, items with different rhetorical functions can have identical sets of attributes. This is most evident for legacy content that is posted as PDF files. A brief and a working paper have very different rhetorical functions. But the rhetoric is entirely contained in the PDF. The structural bits stored in the CMS are usually identical.