What’s In a Name?


Anyone who creates new content is likely accustomed to this old two-part problem: what should the title of the piece of content be, and can the file name of the content be the same as the title?

As content makers we “solve” the problem every time, because if we don’t insist on a decision then the content is not saved for any later re-use.

But aside from being necessary, the decision we make may still not be a good decision.

With current tools, there is usually a lot of flexibility in naming the content for the intended user of the content. Think of it as a major privilege of the content author or producer. The better the author understands the audience, the more likely the title will be useful enough to help them pick out the right thing.

However, we all know that in a given collection of content items, it is possible to have multiple separate items with the same title. Whereas in that same collection, if the content is digitized, we normally cannot give multiple items the same file name.

Our real problem is that there are so many instances where neither the file name nor the title tells us if we have found what we need to use. This is increasingly true either on the web at-large, or in large collections such as libraries or the company content sites at work.

Aside from actually inspecting the innards of what we obtain, we really have only two indicators of whether available content is the right content: relevance and precision.

To provide us with those clues, we rely on metadata — the part of information found with content that describes the content item itself.

Metadata is like the qualifications of a new hire; the qualifications don’t do the work, but they tell you about the person who is going to be doing it. Finding the right content is a lot like finding the right person.

However, for regular humans, finding the metadata would also be part of the problem.

Luckily the main reason search tools can work is because they automatically hunt for things assuming that metadata will be available, and they don’t complain about the workload.

On the other hand, a Catalog makes the metadata the main feature, not just an assumption.

A catalog is a content collection named according to the content purpose; and the content in the catalog is grouped according to qualifications offered as recommendations to the content user.

That makes Catalogs great for two reasons.

One: we know why we need the content, and that’s why we’re looking for it. Here, it helps to be looking in a repository that we know exists specifically to provide content for that reason. The repository itself should promote the Relevance of the content.

And two: we know the content must be usable in the right way. We want visibility of the content’s qualities to tells us how it expects to be used. Exposing the ideas, format, and version of the content item should bring Precision to the task of making selections.

Those two reasons make catalogs especially helpful for dealing with a content collection.

But the importance of a catalog is greatest for a content provider, more than for the content hunter.

A good catalog layout easily organizes a basic way of locating appropriate content. If we were to search for content about “footwear for sports” or “winter coats for women”, it is easy to imagine those criteria in the layout of a catalog.

For example, a catalog, laid out as a table, and named Women’s Wear, might show groupings of content by Seasons (as separate columns) and by Clothing Types (as separate rows). Those criteria makes it easy to locate content both when storing it and when offering it for selection.

In effect, the layout of the catalog is the already-visible metadata that lets users make reliable choices from the provider’s collection.

The terms selected as criteria will supply the needed signals of precision and relevance that help the content user.

Keeping the same tabular layout, a catalog criteria that are used as labels for its rows and columns can be more general or more specific. Specificity can be adjusted as a way of meeting the content users’ necessary level of confidence.

In the Provider’s scheme of things, it is probably more important to name the catalog and the criteria than it is to name the content item and file.