Friday, June 13, 2008

Emerging Themes

This morning the speakers that I have heard have been integrating the threads that have emerged through the past two days of discussion as they apply to their own presentations. Lisa Bos of Really Strategies, Inc. pointed out two such themes in the day's first presentation, the first of which is that not all content is well-suited to the relational database model and the second of which was that quality metadata is what drives robust applications. Search by itself is inadequate.

What I am hearing as an emergent concern is that the shift required in moving to an XML environment on a content level is more at this point about converting cultural attitudes than about technological change. In the modern age, human beings are used to being presented with content in a fixed, linear form. With the adoption of XML, there is the flexibility to re-form content for delivery in a way that divorces it from that fixed, linear narrative. The traditional thinking about content is alarmed by that concept. Context is absolutely critical to understanding a piece of content and we do not want to lose that. But the ability to see pieces of content outside of an original document (whether as a search snippet or as an thumbnail in a gallery view or as an abstract shape in a visualization tool) is critical for purposes of allowing users to browse online. We are in fact learning how to browse content in new ways. Instead of flipping pages back and forth in a book, stopping at an interesting paragraph appearing in a specific chapter, we see and grasp the significance of a piece of content online through different viewing options. XML makes that feasible in a digital environment. But changing the mindset of providers and consumers of content in accepting that this is an equally valid mechanism for absorbing and retaining information is the most difficult challenge.

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