Thursday, February 01, 2007

Describing things better may be more important than the thing itself

Everyone is finding out the power of metadata. A photo that has no description is merely a picture and on the web, the picture is literally lost in space. However, a picture that has even a simple description can be found by others and organized. The new social dimension of tagging is becoming a hallmark of the so-called web 2.0 and one that encourages sharing and collaboration.

Tagging or labeling online content is becoming the new search tool of choice among web users and interestingly not everyone recognizes they are doing it. Google for example refers to it as “bookmarking”. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the trend in tagging is growing among US web users and it recently found that over a quarter of online Americans (28%) had tagged content such as a photo, news story or blog. Even this blog is now tagged!

Some may argue that the imprecise and ambiguous nature of the tagging is inhibiting its full use, others that any tagging is better than none. We only need to trawl through the pages of eBay to appreciate the many ways one can describe the same thing. But we still find it and in the wider internet the world this is no different.
What does that mean for publishing? It clearly shows that getting the metadata right and structured is fundamental to searching discovering and qualifying content.

Content without context is lost.

Those who tag well will be found and be appreciated. Those who don’t, may be found, but by a disappointed searcher. In the physical bookstore the placement of the book is determined by the physical shelf and store categories. “The Royal Gardens of Europe” could be in architecture, gardening, history, travel but invariably will be only be found in one. My stepfather’s best selling books could be found in memoirs, humour, autobiography, caring and health and even pets and one wonders where “Paws in the Proceedings” hi s latest book will be found when it is released in June? However on the net, these titles should be tagged against every category that is applicable and thereby found by multiple searches.