What is structured and unstructured data?

Apr 16 2007

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Left photo by randomduck, right photo by right by edvvc. Creative Commons.

When I started working on XWiki, one of the challenges I was asked to undergo was to find out what was "so special about XWiki". I first came out with some features I thought were a must for a business wiki (such as the PDF export or the advanced user rights settings), but the answer I invariably got was: go further, look deeper, seek a bit more. It actually took me quite a while to get around the whole potential of XWiki, and find out exactly why is XWiki so powerful.

The answer, I happened to learn, lies around the mix of "structured and unstructured content" used in XWiki. This short sentence has proved itself surprisingly wide and complex. So, what does it mean?

What is unstructured content?

The main strength of most wikis is unstructured content. That is, the ability to easily add text to a page, modify its content or create new pages. Unstructured content stands for all the elements you can freely put on a page (mainly image and text), the way you would write with a pen on a blank page. A wiki makes using unstructured content powerful among its users since they can share it, modify it and add new text and images effectively. Indeed, it is so effective that most wikis are successful while offering only that type of content.

Structured content: an explanation

However, as I already argued it in my previous post being able to use structured content is also an important requirement in many situations. What's more, it gains users' time since the whole part of templating is automated, and so does not have to be performed by them any longer. Creating a great number of pages supposed to follow the same model incurs an important loss of time on most wikis. Now with XWiki you no longer need to consider it a necessary hassle.

The power of structure

But structured content goes way further than this. Coupled with XWiki's scripting abilities, it means that you can define data structures and use them directly in wiki pages Thanks to this, small applications can be created easily to offer advanced features within your XWiki (check out the Task Manager or the Calendar applications for instance).

XWiki is built as a platform from which you can create a wiki that suits the very requirements of work in your company. Be them the need to keep a track of informal information, to share documents and text more efficiently or to manage a network of people, XWiki offers a solution. With XWiki, the applications that will improve your business' productivity can now be developed on the go.