ContentBase: The Backbone of a Content-Centric System
This is part two in a series. You can find part one here.
In the last article I ended noting that there was a “content-centric infrastructure” at the core of the ContentBase, which is key to facilitating many different kinds of content applications.
Before I explain what that is, I should point out that there are two key leaps needed for a reliable, forward-looking system.
The first is for there to be an actual “system” and not just a collection of scripts that someone points at a pile of files on someone’s file system. You need a centrally accessible place to put the content, and where everybody that needs to access it can find the canonical version of the content. It is there for when it needs to be worked on, for when someone needs to assess what content is available for new purposes under development, etc. Generally, such a thing is referred to as a “repository.”
There also needs to be a database or something like a database that “knows” things about all the content it is holding. Processing content is a heavyweight task, and you don’t want to have to scan a boatload of documents every time you want to know something about your content. It is important to realize that content is not just a bunch of text and styling. Your content IS data. It’s really a very particular kind of data, and it’s not just data but it is data and should be treated like data. Your content’s structure is data, your content contains data, and lots of things you know about your content are potentially useful data, even if they currently have no manifestation other than decisions and actions you take in how you use it. There is great value in getting at this data, explicit and implicit, and having a system that “knows about” all this data.
In order to “know” things about your content, there needs to be some definition of what “know” means, of what kinds of things are essential to know. Another way of saying this is that some overall model is needed, reflecting the structure and meaning of your content. This model is a basis for organizing your content and not treating it like just a big amorphous pile of stuff.
Any content tools built on such a system need to find and make sense of your content, to know what content is appropriate for a given action, and to select from your content according to whatever organizing principles are appropriate. This is what you could call the informational backbone. This means defining the types of content as your organization reckons them, defining what metadata is important to each type, and what kind of relationships they have to other content, to informational concepts, and to business domain objects.
This informational backbone is designed into the heart of our ContentBase repository. This is the aspect of the content that is analogous to the data in a database, and which gives our product its name, ContentBase.
All other functionality in our system hangs on this backbone, whether built-in, or custom-built for a very specific client need. It is a starting point for building workflows, publications, export transforms of the content to other systems, new assemblies of content, user interfaces for enriching the content, content “diffs,” etc.
When we built this content infrastructure into the ContentBase we held to several key principles. I will cover those principles in part three.
About the author
Eric Schwarzenbach is Wrycan’s Principal Software Architect. Eric is responsible for the design and guiding the continued development of ContentBase. Eric has been building content-related technology for over 20 years.
About Wrycan, Inc.
Founded in 2003, Wrycan is a Content Engineering company helping content production and product development work together successfully. Wrycan delivers Content Engineering services and technology to publishers and content producers, bridging the gap between content production and digital delivery products. Companies building digital content platforms leverage our ContentBase platform to deliver content to their end-user products and channel partners.
Wrycan headquarters is in Kendall Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.