City of Calgary: Content Atomization

April 2018 – August 2018

Business Case Background

The City of Calgary approached me in April 2018 with a concept for that would completely change the way that their content could be created, stored and used – content atomization. There are several different views and definitions of content atomization in use, but for the City of Calgary the term content atomization was used to mean the splitting of content into the smallest possible fragments that could stand alone and be understood by a user. These fragments could then be selected and assembled by trained content creators for use on and, potentially, other City-owned digital platforms in the future. With this approach, the City hopes to be able to reduce duplication of content, streamline the creation of content, and better meet user needs and expectations in an ever-changing digital landscape that now includes technologies such as artifical intelligence and virtual personal assistants.

Problems to be Solved

In order to facilitate such a fundamental shift in the way that content is created, stored and used, a consistent and thorough approach to metadata and taxonomies was imperative. To start, a better understanding of the types of content that currently exist on and the relationships that exist or could exist between these content types was needed as was an understanding of the metadata and taxonomy that would best facilitate storage and retrieval for each of these content types.

Solutions and Recommendations

The best way to communicate these relationships and requirements was through the creation of an information model with supplementary resources that would add clarity to the complex nature of the model.

Task: Identigy and define all current content types on
Deliverables: Alpha Information Model

This time-consuming and labour-intensive task was a critical first step in addressing the problems that needed to be solved. The City of Calgary’s digital development team assisted greatly in providing a content inventory for the entire site in Excel format. It was then my job to manually review each page of the site to identify, define and document all of the different content types that existed (ie. event, facility, news article, general content). Once they had been identified, I added clarity and context to each content type by providing a brief description of the content type as well as a granularity statement to guide content creators.

Task: Define metadata and taxonomy requirements for each content type
Deliverable: Metadata Schema

The next step in this process was the clearly define the metadata and taxonomy requirements of each content type. Relying heavily on my formal education in information studies, as well as over a decade of practical experience, I created a comprehensive, robust and highly-customized metadata schema for each content type that included a list of required and non-required metadata elemts, as well as a description, desired format, and recommended taxonomy (as needed) for each element.

A sample view of one content type in the metadata schema

Task: Document relationships between content types
Deliverable: Beta Information Model

Finally, bringing all of the pieces of this effort together allowed me to create a visual information model that documented all of the current and potential future relationships between content types. Using an open-source visualization software called Kumu, I was able to easily and clearly display all of the content types and their relationships in a format that was easily exportable but that my clients could also explore and revisualize the same information in a variety of ways to best suit their needs.

A visualization of all content types on and the relationships that can and/or could exist between them.

Task: Prepare a series of recommendations for implementation
Deliverable: Headless CMS Implementation Recommendations Document

Knowing that the most likley way that this work would be implemented at the City was through a headless CMS (see this Wikipedia article for more detail), I provided a series of recommendations from an information model and metadata & taxonomy perspective to help facilitate this transition if the City choose to move in this direction. My final recommendations document consisted of eight defined phases with specific goals to be achieved and tasks to be accompished in each phase.

Risk Factors and Assessment

At the conclusion of my contract with The City of Calgary, discussions were continuing to progress with regard to the selection and implementation of a new content management system for Included in these discussions were issues around content atomization, metadata, taxonomy and content type relationships. It is anticipated that key decisions around a new content management system will be made within the next 12 months, at which time, these formal deliverables will provide the necessary foundation for moving foward with a headless CMS. However, if a headless CMS is not selected as the most appropriate approach for, the work that I completed and the deliverables that I provided will not be wasted – they have already begun to initiate deeper discussions among the UX and content teams at the City about how these concepts can be leveraged to better improve the user experience and to transform the way that content is created at the City.