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Searching Through Metadata

November 14, 2005

What I find really, really exciting about the web is the way it allows me to access material. When I’m writing, I sometimes find myself at a loss for a quote that I want to add. If it is in my collection of books, sometimes I can find it, especially if I remember who the author is. But sometimes I just remember a phrase, and not the source. Quotation marks around that phrase and Google allow me to find it easily.

David Weinberger, author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined, about the web culture, (and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society) has speculated on the direction of these possibilities. First he points out how we have historically attempted to categorize books:

We’ve been managing book metadata basically the same way since Callimachus cataloged the 400,000 scrolls in the Alexandrian Library at the turn of the third century BC. Callimachus listed the library’s contents on scrolls, Medieval librarians used ledgers, and we use card catalogs, now mostly electronic. But until information started moving online, the basic strategy has been the same: Arrange the books one way on the shelves, physically separate the metadata from them, and arrange the metadata in convenient ways.

In the Boston Globe article this quote is drawn from, he looks at the impact of the web on how we organize our information about books and other information – our metadata:

The real challenge to traditional publishing today comes not from the digitizing of books, then, but from the very nature of the Web itself. Using metadata to assemble ideas and content from multiple sources, online readers become not passive recipients of bound ideas but active librarians, reviewers, anthologists, editors, commentators, even (re)publishers. Perhaps that’s what truly scares publishers and authors about Google Print.

Yet what makes me worried is how few people are actually capable of searching in a more sophisticated way. Even the basic technique of adding quotation marks around a name or phrase when you search is not well known.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    November 14, 2005 5:40 am

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  2. Brian permalink
    November 17, 2005 1:21 am

    I would agree. I am constantly trying to find ways to access information. In addition, I am constantly trying to seek connections across the patterns of information I find, and relate that to my own experience. Once I have accessed some interesting information, I’m often left wondering just what to think about it. Perhaps there is a sense that we need to find ways to “think through metadata” as well.


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