Tuesday, September 16, 2008

small pieces loosely joined by metadata

Today I had the extreme pleasure of attending a talk by David Weinberger (The Cluetrain Manifesto, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Everything is Miscellaneous) at the Smithsonian, entitled "Knowledge, Noise and the End of Information." It was webcast, and I strongly suggest viewing it if you can.

There was lots of interesting discussion about the definition of information, the innately social nature of the human race and how social interaction is a vital aspect of information discovery, and how the loosely joined and messy nature of the internet just reflects human nature and is not a bad thing. He also stressed that one can never know what digital information might be of importance in the future, so we should, as cultural institutions, be striving to keep as much as possible. He also touched on the importance of brand and authoritativeness, but not to equate that with control.

A word I did not expect to hear today, let alone about a hundred times, was "metadata." The cellphone image above is a shot of one of his concluding statements. He talked a lot about the importance of metadata, whether it be authoritative cataloging, community tagging, or contextual relationships through linking. Since we cannot ever imagine all the uses for our digital content we cannot possibly expend the costly effort to provide all the descriptive metadata that every community might want or need, so all three are complementary and of equal value.

One of my take-aways was that this again shows the importance of just getting digital content out there. Let the content express itself through its authoritative metadata, but also provide open access and support multiple mechanisms through which it can be incorporated into new contexts and uses and gain new descriptions.

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