• United States

Does content equal data in the mobile world?

Oct 09, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Separating content from data

The head of our IT group asked me to meet up with him the other day to brainstorm about a panel he’s going to be on. He asked me what I think about content management for mobile users.

More specifically he asked if I thought people were truly accessing “content” on their PDAs, laptops, cell phones, etc. I told him he had to throw out his notion of what content is before I could answer that question.

My reasoning on this is simple. As we move forward with Web services and all they entail, content will no longer be a tangible thing. Instead, you’ll be gathering up “data” from different sources and presenting it in a multitude of formats. No longer will you have what looks like a page as permanent structure for your data.

As an example, I believe that in the next few years – it’s already starting to happen – doctors will turn to mobile devices to write out prescriptions. The information they put into the prescription program will not be dependent on the format of that original form they filled out. It won’t be like ripping off a piece of prescription paper and handing it to a pharmacist to dispense. Instead, everything will be done electronically, with the pharmacist gathering the data they need from that original form and presenting it in a different format.

Next example: A safety engineer performing a factory inspection would access “data” not content about the machinery she is examining. For instance, before she leaves her office, knowing what types of equipment she will be looking at, she’ll download parts of the manuals she needs to a mobile device. Then, as she’s going through her inspection, relevant data will pop up as she gets to each field in her inspection form to help her determine the factory’s compliance level. This data is not kept in its “manual-like” format. Instead, it melds to fit the environment she needs it to fit into – in this case an on-site inspection form.

So to go back to my colleague’s original question: Are people truly accessing content on their mobile devices, I say no. But they are accessing amazing amounts of data that lead to a far greater productivity than anything that is constrained to its original format.

I’ll add that we’ve hit a brick wall that has forced us to separate data from content. The form factors of these devices do not allow for data to stay in its original construct. This is not a bad thing. It has forced us to think outside the box and to create technologies like XML that let us use the data in more ways than we ever imagined.

What do you think? Is content different than data when dealing with mobile devices? Let me know at


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

More from this author