Is digital content a level playing field?

By Clemency Wright, of Clemency Wright Consulting, the UK’s leading provider of keywording services and consultancy.

Advances in technology have meant we no longer rely on analogue search methods such as index cards. We’ve cultivated new ways of searching using digitised metadata in the form of taxonomies and ontologies, and we are implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to automate metadata. Things are getting faster, but does this necessarily mean better?

With so many ways of finding things, and so many technology platforms in use, it may seem that technology makes access to information more equitable. If content is equally accessed by all, irrespective of education or socio-economic status, then we might assume that everyone has the same opportunities. But we know this is not the case.

Access to information is no longer reserved for academics and specialists. It is considered an essential component for education, personal well being, and professional progression.

In 2016, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding Resolution that declared internet access a human right. Many countries around the world offer free public wi-fi.

However, there are areas where internet access is restricted or censored by government. In some regions, we see a widening gap known as the “digital divide” where those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing valuable information that could help improve their life chances, simply due to restricted access to technology.

Billions of people are unable to access content online due to language barriers. It has been calculated that 80% of online content is available in just one-tenth of all languages. Furthermore, 98% of US-based web pages are not accessible to the disabled community from a legal perspective, according to the 2020 Web Accessibility Annual Report.

Within organisations, different people require access to information to enable them to do their day-to-day work. It is not possible to predict who is searching for what, and we cannot know what barriers they face.

Our job as content managers is to create search methodologies and keywording strategies to support users throughout their search journey, regardless of who they are. Ultimately, everyone stands to gain if we do.

What is an equitable search experience?

Search is comprised of input (what the user asks for) and output (what the system produces). Keywords sit between the two. For search to work best, the keywords entered by a user need to match those applied to content by an administrator.

As language changes, so too does the way we classify content. Terms that were once considered acceptable may soon become inappropriate or take on a different meaning. When businesses fail to acknowledge cultural change, customer loyalty and reputation decline, and this has significant financial consequences.

Technology enables more access to content than ever before. Equitable search is a human-focused approach to applying the language people use today in a way that makes it easy to find content. Technology is constantly playing catch-up, and systems are not capable of translating the rich conceptual language expressed through creative media in the same way people can. To make search better, we need to choose our keywords carefully and harness technology mindfully.

Final Thoughts

There is a tendency to want to publish content as quickly as it is created. Time is of the essence. Time is money. I encourage people to invest more time in the Keywording process and to think about this much earlier on in the content lifecycle. After all, a commitment to making your content as visible as possible is also a commitment to making it accessible.

Keywording is not something that can be done as an after-thought, it is part of the content production process. Keywording is a very powerful way to connect with new customers – but it is also the right thing to do from an accessibility perspective!    If you want to learn more, check out our new course to Keywording. 

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