6 Things You Need to Know About Unstructured Content
Unstructured data. As a writer I hate that term. I remember the first time I heard reference to it; sitting in a meeting and technical people were talking about all the unstructured content that publishers produce. Huh? How could they be speaking about articles as unstructured? If anyone has made it through kindergarten they have learned that they must follow a linguistic pattern or "structure" in order to communicate effectively. But in the lexicon of geekdom, any article, picture, PowerPoint, video, song, user-generated content, even your kids' text messages are all "unstructured." Any "data" that does not fit nicely into a column or a row is considered unstructured.
Now, as much as I find the word "unstructured" ironic, there is a logic behind this. It was evident when classifieds first went online. Dumped from mainframes where customers paid by the character, people created their own short-hand to say 4BR House 4 Sale. Turns out though, that all that unstructure (which I prefer to say as free-form) makes it very hard to search on. Don't believe me? Go to Craigslist.org—which tries to impose structure on advertisements by putting it under broad categories and locations. Other than that, it is pretty freestyle. Nannies are caregivers or sitters (baby or otherwise, and plural or not). And search on one of those terms at the peril of not finding it under the other.
On the flip side are the sites that allow only structure: information fits neatly in a row or table and has descriptive titles like Type of residence, # of Bedrooms, Price, MLS #, etc. Having that structure makes it easy to query or search that information. You probably have heard of SQL, the acronym for Structured Query Language. Relational databases use SQL to find content, by looking in the appropriate fields—which is all well and good for content like financial information and inventory systems.