At the Infocamp Seattle “Unconference” on Oct 8-9, one of the sessions was re Metadata, and one of the attendees used an article from Cory Doctorow to play devil’s advocate and state that metadata wasn’t necessary — only the semantic web is needed.
My reply is as follows:
From what I understand about Berners-Lee’s semantic web, it’s not for human consumption, but is merely computer-to-computer exchanges. Metadata is different, in that while it may be used for computer-computer interchanges, it’s also intended for human-computer exchanges and human-human exchanges (so to me, one isn’t a substitute for the other).
I also don’t accept Doctorow’s 7 statements. With respect to social tagging, humans are anything but lazy, given that usage of sites almost always increases when you let people interact with it: some of it because some people are interested in the topic, others, because they like seeing their names online 🙂 But I can’t ascribe lying to everyone, nor stupidity.
I will agree with Cory that schemas aren’t neutral, as indicated in the cartoon I described where a group of standards pros have 28 schemas, and at the end of their work to create a single unified schema, instead of a single scheme, they instead now have 29. However, I don’t know that there needs to be a unified schema with how well crosswalks can work (and with how fun they can be to create).
I think the fact that the term metadata means different things to different people shows that there is something inherent in it that makes it less than utopic. However, it can be a very powerful tool for allowing humans to create richer records of humanity’s knowledge (which is the purpose of libraries, after all).
Who knows, maybe in the future there will be a more perfect way to apply attributes searchable by both computers and humans, and perhaps all of metadata’s current manifestations can be transferred into that more-perfect “thing”. I do think it’s come too far and has become too much a part of our culture to just toss it out.
I would have loved a whole afternoon talking about Metadata and what people love and hate about it (Michael Gorman, a librarian, has written some scathing, albeit witty, articles on the subject.)