Tallinn conference report page two

What’s it all for? Good metadata practice allows promotion of re-use; it encourages consistent use of terms. How should we aim to get good metadata? There’s some realities to consider too. For many projects, there’s a lot of data to index, and no-one to index it. You’ll run out of expertise, and cataloguers too.

JISC finds it is expensive to keep an institutional repository going, but amateurs adding to repositories creates problems with accuracy and consistency. It’s a major JISC task. They recommend working with readable documentation, which might help things move along more effectively. “You have to communicate how to make good metadata,” said Emma.

It’s a familiar model. But Jacob Neilsen said ‘speak the users’ language.’ So is this impossible – an argument against consistency, asked Emma? In digital culture there are many special groups, who use metadata differently. Even professionals do things differently.

And even in the rock solid world of standards, metadata schemas change – how do you disseminate changes to make sure everyone uses new terms when they are applied? It’s best done collaboratively, said Emma. So in the metadata community, change is constant. The models used reflect our preoccupations, so in one sense they are not perfectly formed objective, forensically factual descriptions, they are also seen through a human, emotional filter.

Changes to schema or tagging systems can be observed in action, but how do you detect changes as they occur? Social tagging irritates librarians, but users say ‘this is fun.’ Yes, metadata insiders scoff, it’s easy for users to write tags, but what we are left to clear up and classify is computationally difficult. Why do ordinary users reject formal systems?

Clearly it’s not easy. Where system owners (or publishers, or museums, or library system admin people) have tried to control tagging, users reject it. US tech sector webzine Slashdot, for example, tried to offer controlled terms for attachment to articles, but it was laughed out of the browser by users.

So what’s the right answer? The answer is – there’s no one answer. Different contexts work. It’s to do with your context, compromise and requirements. It’s to do with interface considerations and opportunities. Ebay mixes things, so does Amazon. It about engaging with your stakeholders – but it’s hard to know who they are.

This is crucial. There’s only so much time to make these facets better. One thing’s for sure – lightweight approaches work well across the sector. In the JISC sector, and in the rest of UK, there’s lots of good work going on, said Emma.

How do we get to the semantic web from where we are right now in the UK? Concentrate on the basics. Everything we touch digitally needs to be given those crucial digital specifications: who, what, when and where? It’s so basic. Minimal tags? Experiment, try things out, development works.

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