No More Jargon

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


    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Metadata: Machine Accessibility

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

    A recent article in the New York times heralded the arrival of what they called "Web 3.0" or the Semantic Web. This caused quite a bit of tittering among commentators on the Internet, mostly because the paint was still fresh on Web 2.0 (whatever it actually means), but also because the Semantic Web was nothing new.

    The Semantic Web is a format and specification project that has been underway for almost a decade. Its stated goal is the creation of a knowledge format that will allow machine intelligences to comprehend and reason about a wide and constantly evolving range of data. The format, and formats that will be derived from it, are what is known as metadata.

    The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms defines metadata as:

    A description of the data in a source, distinct from the actual data; for example, the currency by which prices are measured in a data source for purchasing goods
    Of course, this definition has no strict association with computer data. By all rights, metadata has existed for centuries, the Dewey Decimal System being the most widely known and rigorous. But even a convention as simple as alphabetical ordering by author, then title in the non-fiction section is a use of metadata. The data being the work itself, the text on the pages, and the metadata being the author and title.

    This brings me to what I feel is an important point about metadata: although it ostensibly exists to allow mechanical interaction with data, the chief beneficiaries are ultimately humans.

    To show this, consider a simple thought experiment:
    1. Tear off the cover of every book in a library.
    2. Try to find a book written by your favorite author.

    Next: Web Browsing is Hard Work

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