Content Models: As Simple as Pizza Pie!

Jan 7, 2016

Open and structured content models assist in the dissemination of information to various devices and media types. In the age of smartphones, tablets, social media tools, syndication and websites, the need for modular content is growing.

How can you make your content adaptive to all of these mediums?

Open and structured content models can help you create content that is platform-agnostic, format-free and device independent.

Because, as Ann Mulhay, ex-CEO of Xerox succinctly puts it:

“Unstructured content is stupid and old-fashioned. It’s costly, complex and does not generate a competitive advantage.”

What is a Content Model?

A content model is a representation of types of content and their inter-relationships. Content modeling takes content items and breaks them down into smaller structures, called content types. These content types are defined by their attributes.

Pizza and fresh italian ingredients

To better understand content models, think of a pizza as a content model and the toppings for the pizza as the unique content types. You can make many different pizzas (or even a calzone) with the different ingredients, but they’re all pizza.

What is NOT a content model?

Like a salad is not a pizza, a site map depicting a top-down view of website pages is not a content model. It’s not a navigational scheme for describing how users get from A to B. And it’s not page types outlining how content should be laid out on a page. When working with content models, forget about pages and websites altogether. Model content outside of the confines of its initial context, and set it free for consumption across your tools.

The Goal

Create once and use everywhere. Adopting content models can allow your content to be flexible enough to go wherever it is needed. Whether it is syndicated, viewed on a mobile device or the data is pulled in by another application—it’s flexible and therefore consumable.

4 Benefits for Implementing

Commonality = Interoperability

When agencies all use the same models, their Web content can be freely exchanged within and outside the federal government, providing more efficient use of communications resources and a high quality, uniform message for constituents. When created using a common structure, your content is more easily found, gathered, organized and distributed, regardless of platform, format or device.


Content is no longer a single unit written for a single purpose. With content models, it becomes a logical aggregation of smaller pieces or “chunks” each defined as a metadata element. The working group models include metadata elements that give APIs and search engines a description of your content, the title, topic keywords and the source organization, for example.

Easy Adoption

The models are simple, defining a core set of metadata elements; just a few required elements and a few common optional metadata. Many of these elements may already be used by your agency’s CMS. This streamlined approach promotes government-wide adoption and seamless access to a plethora of easily customizable, organized information. A simpler way of sharing what you publish most is at your fingertips—grab it!

Ready for Syndication

Syndication allows your content to be consumed by the other federal agencies, states and local governments, public and commercial consumers. Benefits of syndication include:

  • Content is automatically updated in real time
  • Audience retention and content re-use leverage inter-agency content to reduce overhead
  • Allowing staff to focus on your mission priorities

This approach is key to the success for federal agencies with public health missions like the Centers for Disease Control, who now easily share content, almost seamlessly.

Here is an example of a CDC Web page content on

Hookworm content on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

seamlessly appears here

Hookworm content on the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website.

Seems simple enough—How do I get started?

You have your data and are now ready to start “cooking” with a content model (pizza). The U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) convened a working group to create two open and structured content models you can use and adapt to make your own. These content models were created to help government agencies easily publish content in multiple forms (slices) and on multiple platforms.

The Article and Event models, are geared to provide a template for structuring digital information that makes Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) possible. The Article and Events models are not intended to be exhaustive. They serve as a common starting point. When agencies identify elements not covered by these two content models they can extend them with additional elements.

These models are located on GitHub—check them out, help update them and start making your slices!

Get Involved!

Join in the open content modeling project and help build a 21st century digital government!

Want to learn more?

Check out Government Open and Structured Content Models are Here!

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