No More Jargon

The coalescence of thoughts with regards to technical subject matters in the areas of software design and computer languages.


    Monday, December 04, 2006

    Metadata: The Darker Side of Meta

    This series of posts is part of a short paper I am writing for Communication Design for the WWW.

    The garden of metadata is not all sunshine and roses though. There are thorns on our flowers of knowledge. Cory Doctorow, prolific Internet auteur, released long ago a general list of problems that will exist on the semantic web whenever it materializes. I will mention but a few of these that I consider the most worrying, specifically poisoned metadata and a lack of investment.

    It has been established that attention is the most valuable commodity on the Internet aside from hard currency (with the majority of concern about attention going towards converting it to said currency). In underhanded attempts to gather attention, people will make all sorts of audacious claims and use any technique to grab attention wherever they may. You need only look in your spam folder to see this reality. With the capacity to add new information about information, a less than scrupulous user may attempt to place their content in a place it does not belong. Within the context of tagging, this has been unimaginatively named "tag spam", a prime example of which can be seen here. They keywords that have been placed on this photograph have little, if anything to do with the subject of the picture and seem to serve only promotional purposes.

    Spam of this sort seems not to have taken off yet, perhaps in part because the spamers are forced to work with an application that requires user registration and thus limits the number of anonymous entries they can deploy. This low volume has left the signal to noise ratio relatively high, and thus it is not much of a problem. But when metadata moves towards non-federated creation, there will be no such guarantee of a central executor to punish those who seed poisoned data.

    Apathy would be what I would consider the next largest problem. Despite an inevitable trend towards a more technologically savvy population, there remains a large segment, even among younger users that couldn't give a damn. Even though adding a tag takes but a few keystrokes, and adding geotags involves a few clicks on a map, it still does require work. Work that people just aren't interested in. For now, this is not a large concern among users since the majority do in fact care about adding metadata to their content.

    Perhaps it won't be a problem though. If the visionaries are to be believed, not adding metadata will mean that not only will your content not be findable, it won't even be usable, even by yourself. Self-interested utility may be what drives metadata creation.

    In many senses, this is already the case. When a user tags a link on they typically do so because they found the link noteworthy and would like to be able to find it again. When a Flickr user tags a photo and adds geotags, they do so because they would like to find a specific picture again, or see all the pictures they have taken someplace.

    Will it fly in Peoria though? I'm not sure.

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