Thursday, August 26, 2004

Metadata: harmful or helpful?

After reading Richard's blog, and the accompanying article, I was asked by a colleague my opinion on metadata. Is it harmful or helpful?

I think it depends on your point of view. If you are for sharing information, making it easier to find information, and for freedom of information, then metadata is your friend. If you need to protect information, or are worried about legal entanglements, then exposing metadata may be considered harmful.

As a CYA mechanism, metadata takes no position -- meaning it can hurt you or help you depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Take the example from the CNET story, where Prime Minister Blair's documents contained metadata that contradicted the official position. That metadata was harmful to his position, but helpful to those against his position.

IMO, metadata is like truth.The truth will set you free. In the end, the truth will come out. Enter the rhetorical question: Are you on the side of the truth or not? If metadata exists, and you are doing what is right, it will help defend your position. If you are doing wrong, metadata will help expose you.

If we are ever going to achieve the lofty goals of the Semantic Web, those intelligent systems will need to have metadata in order to function, just as we humans need context around every situation to understand and act properly. Without the context, then you will get misinterpretation.

You should be able to determine what metadata you want to have published along with your content/resource. Perhaps that is where some of the tools fail, in that they blindly publish all of their metadata, when they should provide a choice or configuration of what you want exposed. Hopefully there is at least a common set that everyone would use as a base, such as the Dublin Core.

Choice is always good. If you choose not to expose metadata, then Semantic Agents will not be able to reliably work with your content, and maybe that's the choice you want to make. At least you have the freedom to choose.

See also:

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