Originally published at: http://www.sitepoint.com/cms-content-organization-structures-trees-vs-facets-vs-tags/
This article discusses the state of trees as a content organization structure in modern CMS as opposed to other approaches.
For several years I have been interested in content repositories as a key aspect of modern CMS. With “modern”, I mean CMS that are not just “page management systems” but CMS that actually manage content, thereby enabling authors to reuse their content on different devices and even different applications. In this spirit, I was very intrigued by services like prismic.io and contentful.com that essentially provide content repositories as a service. I was especially impressed by Prismic’s UI. But when evaluating these systems, I noticed a surprising trend: they do not leverage trees, neither as a native storage concept nor as a visualization concept. Instead, they for the most part rely on flat structures with tagging. My gut feeling was telling me that this was a mistake, especially when managing larger content repositories. At the same time I wondered: “Am I just a dinosaur that is missing the ark?”.
I discussed the topic with Ekke at a recent conference and after a short Twitter exchange we decided to write down our thoughts. I found additional inspiration in an article by David Weinberger who helped put my feelings in a historical context as well as explaining the advantages of different approaches to content organization, namely: trees, facets and tags. Additionally, I also want to mention the concept of references since they are supported by Contentful.
Trees are the oldest of the methods mentioned above. The reason for this is likely that they work great in the physical world, ie. good old paper books, because it requires no duplication of content. That is, every piece of information is placed in exactly one place. The fact that trees have been around so long also gives them one distinct advantage: everyone knows how they work. Facets and tags, however, very much leverage the new possibilities of the digital age in that content can easily live in several places at once. But just because trees predate the digital age does not make them a dinosaur waiting for extinction. Let us first look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of facets and tags.