Less is More

I'm doing some file cleanup and stumbled across a copy of a "CM Briefing" from several years ago - CMb 2005-13, entitled "More Users=Simpler CMS." It was written by James Robertson of Step Two Designs, an Australian consultancy with a specialty in intranets. I've known James for years, he has a solid background in intranet design, content management, user-centered design and knowledge management.

I'm writing this quick post because this briefing opens with:

In many projects, the plan is to deploy a new content management system (CMS) across the whole organisation. In these organisation-wide deployments, an assumption is made that a “big” CMS will be needed to meet the “enterprise” needs. In practice, a better rule is that the more users that will be accessing the CMS, the simpler (and more usable) the system should be.

YES! Less is more, even in the world of linked data. For years we've seen attempts at building very large, very complicated ontologies, taxonomies and metadata schema for public use. The big ones are fine, but for the right reason, in fewer scenarios. What we've seen gain adoption on a larger scale are some relatively simple frameworks: Dublin Core & FOAF; more recently Open Graph Protocol and Schema.org.

Are there times when a large ontology is needed? Absolutely. Do you need one to get started? Heck no. Start small and simple.

First determine what you need: a simple schema with small controlled vocabularies? A lightweight ontology? That will depend on your goals for publishing data and the kinds of questions you want users to be able to ask of your data.

Next decide on the smallest number of elements you need to get the important data modeled. For example, an Address Record. You need a Street, Building Location, City, State and Zip Code (in the U.S.). Having a controlled vocabulary for the States will make your life much simpler. That's it; you're good to go. Move on to the next data problem.

Finally, encode in a way that will allow it to grow, integrate with other data sets, be usable in many applications and have reasonable maintenance requirements.

Keep it simple, until you need more.

Content Type: