a.d.m.n. asked: “Placed between the two extremes of metadata ideas do you feel we [are] headed towards one or the other? ”
The readings did a good job of showing opposite ends of the spectrum from Gartner’s faith in XML to Doctorow’s cynicism about digital metadata in general.
I would say that both extremes still have their place. Doctorow had me laughing with his colorful language (I especially enjoyed “nerd hubris” and “poo-gas”) but he also had me thinking about Google search which, as far as I know, still intentionally ignores keyword meta tags with its crawlers because they too often contain meta spam.
On the other hand, as a researcher, I do a lot of work with digital and physical collections for which metadata is (or would be) extremely helpful: archival sound recordings and historical newspapers. Google can always crawl your site and cleverly pull out key words and assign it a ranking whether you use metadata or not, but it can’t listen to a sound file and decipher what a song is about or what the singer’s style or accent is.
I had an amazing metadata (and lack thereof) experience this past summer when I was researching a traditional singer who lived in Minnesota from 1885-1931. It began while searching an online collection of pdfs made from old newspapers in New York State. There is almost no metadata there but a search function can comb the OCR-ed pdfs and find words. Through that I found a reference to my singer getting recorded by a folklorist who I knew left his collection to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The AFC had no (digital) record of this happening and no mention of my singer in their finding aid. They did have a box labelled “miscellaneous” that had been transferred from wax cylinder to reel-to-reel in the 70s and, at that time, basic “metadata” was taken down on tape logs based on an archivist listening to the recordings and noting what (if anything) was scribbled on the cylinder cases…. I eventually ended up finding 35 songs, but only because two of the cylinders had had a scribbled note that said “Dean” and because I was familiar enough with his repertoire to ID the other songs! Sometimes the smallest scribble of metadata can go a long way. In case anyone’s interested, here’s a longer account of my find from my blog.