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Structuring our data

When I first started designing websites, content and design were embedded within each other. It was very difficult to strip out the design whenever a redesign was required. We then moved onto the concept of including common design elements as a file on every page, but still the design got in the way of true separation. Content management systems then came along and promised us a world free from pain and the ability to truly separate content from design. Whilst this satisfied us for a while, it then became clear, that simply gaining that separation wasnt enough, we needed to know more about the data. Older content management systems held content within a single blob or body field. Whether that data was a date, a title, a place, a person, or just some descriptive text, we couldn't tell. More than this, even though the content was separate from the design, it was still locked to a page of some variety. Attempts to pull it out easily and repurpose the data became difficult.
 
In order to future proof our data, we need to get rid of the idea that a piece of data will end up on a single web page. This notion is outdated and leads to our data becoming stagnant and left to rot in favour of something else that has superseded it. We also need to not only know the individual bits of data, but also meta information about that data. What does the data represent, does it relate to a certain area, who should be interested in it. 
 
What that then allows us to do is repurpose data anywhere we want. Whether that is on a web page, Facebook stream or an RSS feed. In part or in full. We really need to make our data as rich as possible, and make it work as hard as possible. Simply putting it in one place is not enough.
 
There are common types of data from across the University.
  • News
  • Events
  • Locations
  • Vacancies
  • Awards
  • Grants
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Staff
  • Courses
  • Departments
  • Modules
  • Publications
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Audio
At the moment units across the University all produce these types of content, sometimes it is unique, sometimes its a duplication of content elsewhere. By not only enhancing our data, but also making it easy to share, we can pool and share resources in order to make a bigger impact. It also allows us to start to personalise the site and target specific audiences based on the context the user falls into. That may be their location, it may be their language settings, it may simply be reactive to what they've already searched for. By working to pull together this kind of data, it then becomes simpler to do more complex functionality.