Screens, Research and Hypertext

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Toward a New Vocabulary for Content

We use "content" to describe too many different things.

We’ve used a single term (content) to refer to all the stuff in a museum, when in fact museums are a combination of artwork (content) and curation (taxonomies and metadata).

Part of the confusion owes to the fact that, unlike museums—where curation involves words and art involves images—digital content and taxonomies both involve words. And part may be our own fault. In our haste to find a word that gets beyond format (e.g., article or op-ed or blog post) and thinks about structure (e.g., the underlying components of an article, like a headline or a lede), we’ve landed on a term that abstracts too far, eliding an important distinction between the creative and the curative.

That, in turn, leads to CMSs that conflate creation and curation in unclear ways. Indeed, for all that it generally makes the content strategist in me go weak in the knees, Drupal is arguably the biggest offender here, explicitly treating taxonomies as exactly the same type of entities as content types, even while placing them in different parts of the UI. It’s the worst of both worlds—conceptually, Drupal treats them identically, but practically (for end users) they are treated as different things.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years explaining this distinction, and while the analogy to museums often resonates, the language of curation carries a whole lot of content marketing baggage.

These days, I’ve landed on authoring content and assembling it for presentation.

For more context

Why should we care about the differences between content and taxonomy?

What to read next

What does this mean for research websites?

Other items of interest

Why are you talking about art galleries?

What is with all the different metaphors?

What are some other ways our CMS is failing us?