There is no cheap metadata

by Simon St. Laurent

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In his series of articles on search, Tim Bray explores the value of metadata but also its cost - noting that "There is no cheap metadata."

Metadata's value is often taken as a given at the markup conferences I tend to attend, especially as knowledge technologies - including things like RDF and Topic Maps - have become part of the markup mix. (To me, markup is very definitely metadata itself, but there are lots of levels of meta beyond that.) Given metadata, you can do all of these exciting things automatically, and costs will decline while productivity increases, and so on and so forth.

Bray's piece explores some different kinds of metadata, contrasting the Yahoo way and the Google way, but the most interesting part to me is the question of where the metadata comes from. Yahoo's approach involved human editors, while Google's is developed by scraping existing information from sites to find patterns, but neither of these approaches is free. Distributing the cost of metadata by asking everyone to provide it also tends to annoy users pretty drastically.

I don't think there are any easy answers here, but there are lots of good pieces. Making metadata work is going to take a lot more than metadata-management tools.

Brother, can you spare some metadata?