Updated: 17/9/05; 14:11:29
 Thursday, February 10, 2005

The problem with metadata

The problem with metadata is that it needs a technical FAQ to understand. The new CETIS metadata FAQ wiki is a great resource, extremely comprehensive and undoubtedly much needed, but by whom? Who are the people that need to know about metadata? I think there are three groups - systems vendors and tool developers, people adding metadata, and people consuming metadata.

One would hope that systems vendors and tool developers are already on top of the latest specifications. People adding metadata certainly need to know what to add in which fields but there the big issues are with controlled vocabularies i.e ensuring that what they add as individuals is consistent with what someone else is adding. What I call the 'you say to-may-to I say to-mah-to' effect. Lastly there's the consumers. Generally I guess most of these people don't care about metadata, they just want to find things they're looking for.

So what does this latest FAQ tell us about the present state of metadata in educational technology? One thing it says to me is that there is maybe more effort being expended on the technicalities of metadata and systems to create/use metadata than there is to understand how metadata enables learning and the creation of e-learning materials. The second thing it says to me is that metadata is still difficult.

Could it be that we're thinking about metadata in the wrong way, or maybe at least in way too much abstract detail? There's a school of thought that suggests that metadata should be largely invisible, not only to the consumer but also to the creator of materials. The present crop of e-learning systems can gather quite a bit of metadata automatically without the user having to do anything. I suspect there's lots more work still to be done to develop systems able to extract every ounce of metadata automatically before the user ever has to see a metadata entry form.

So I welcome the CETIS metadata FAQ but I won't be inviting any of my teaching colleagues to look at it, not unless I want them to be further convinced that e-learning is something only for technical experts.