The word “publishing” – at least to the layperson – still conjures up images of books, bindings and library shelves. While the digital reality of today’s publishing industry is very different, the legacy of the physical book still influences our thinking.

Despite advances in digital workflows and digital first strategies, many traditional book publishers still organize around the idea of the book as end-product, a mindset that continues to impact — and limit — the way content is authored, assembled, edited and disseminated.

By releasing content from its container – be that a book, magazine, or any other linear narrative – we can move away from the idea of the book as a static, “canonical” object and open up new ways of thinking about content. Content suddenly ceases to be something static and linear, pinned within the confines of a book, and becomes something dynamic and flexible.

Metadata is the primary enabler and driver of this dynamism and flexibility. As Laura Dawsonputs it in her essay ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Metadata, “Metadata assumes a critical importance once the content is out of the container.”

Most modern publishers are already well versed in the importance of metadata, but what they may not have taken into account is the quality of that metadata. Aside from impacting the level of usefulness or usability, low-quality metadata can have a negative effect on its own.

Often when advising publishing clients, we like to emphasize the importance of the “3 Cs of Metadata” – Completeness, Correctness, and Consistency. We recommend that publishers define a Quality Assurance Methodology for metadata, defining standards and governance over what is meant by “accurate metadata,” as well as the process for how to measure the quality of the metadata.

Tagged and semantically enriched content not only becomes more discoverable (serving both internal users and external consumers), but also develops powerful associability. This means it can be resurfaced where it’s most relevant, for example, in a personalized data feed, or as recommended content, or linked to other pre-existing data sets to create brand new content services. By annotating content with metadata, you can enrich its meaning, enhance its value and support product innovation.

But metadata is a classic example of “more is not always better.”  Even the best content technologies, especially search, can be deemed unpredictable and often useless when the underlying metadata is poor quality. Publishers that capture, maintain, and validate metadata – focused on The 3 C’s – will have the best chances of a sustainable Metadata Strategy.

Author: Renee Swank

Renee Swank, Senior Director, has 25 years of experience in publishing, content, and knowledge management. She works with customers to define vision and drive business transformation to support new digital-first and content enrichment processes, as well as new ways to search, discover, and analyze content.
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