Joho the Blog » Data and metadata: Together again

Data and metadata: Together again

Terry Jones has an excellent post that lists the problems introduced by maintaining a hard distinction between metadata and data.

Terry cites Everything Is Miscellaneous (thanks, Terry), which argues that the distinction, which is hard-coded in the Age of Databases, becomes a merely functional difference in the Age of Messy Links: Metadata is what you know and data is what you’re looking for. For example, the year of a CD is metadata about the CD if you know the year a Bob Dylan CD came out but you don’t remember the title, and the title can be metadata if you know the title but want to find the year. And in both cases, it could all be metadata in your search for lyrics.

This is all very squishy and messy because the distinction is, as Terry says, artificial. It comes from thinking about experience as content that gets processed, as if we worked the way computers do. More exactly, it comes from thinking about experience as a set of Experience Atoms that then have to be assembled; metadata are the labels that tell you that Atom A goes into Atom Z. But experience is far more like language than like particle physics or Ikea assembly instructions. And that’s for a very good reason: linguistic creatures’ experience cannot be understood apart from language. Language doesn’t neatly separate into content and meta-content. It all comes together and it’s all intertwingled. Language is so very non-atomic that it makes atoms realize how lonely they’ve been.

That doesn’t mean that computer software that separates metadata from data is useless. Lord knows I love a good database. But it also means that computer software that can treat anything as metadata depending on what we’re trying to do opens up some interesting possibilities…

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3 Responses to “Data and metadata: Together again”

  1. [...] David’s perceptive entry this morning reminds us that the distinction between data and metadata is a pragmatic distinction, not a difference in kind. That, in turn, prompts me to apply his perspective to conventional (“decryption”) models of hermeneutics: while scholars typically invest in one particular category as the proper interpretive key for decoding the intrinsic meaning of a text, the distinction between message and key (or especially “signal“ and “noise“) is likewise a pragmatic distinction. There‘s just no device, no way, that cuts cleanly between the real, true meaning and the key, the evidence, the authentication. A strong interpretive argument includes text, interpretation, warrants, evidence, precedents, implications, and more — and all of the constituent elements require interpretive judgments too. The static that interrupts your enjoyment of Molly Hatchett’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster,” thus constituting “noise” for you, the Southern-rock lover*, might be “message” to the radio station employee who’s trying to track down sources of radio-signal interference or an astronomer investigating sunspot activity.   (P.S. My plane leaves in a few hours. I’m writing from the Mad Hatter, feeling misty-eyed and sentimental about leaving all the people I know and love in the USA, and feeling vaguely trepidacious about making a new home in Scotland. I mean no offense to my ancestral homeland, of course; I’ll feel more attuned to the “exciting adventure” aspect of the experience once the plane takes off. For now, though, I’m a weepy bundle of nostalgic affection, so don’t say anything to set me off unless you’re prepared for embarrassing rivers of tears.) &nsbp; * That’s as opposed to a geologist from Biloxi, a Southern rock-lover. [...]

  2. [...] two interesting blog posts about how the distinction between data and metadata is artificial, and that [...]

  3. [...] Joho the Blog » Data and metadata: Together again Joho the Blog » Data and metadata: Together again http://bit.ly/xTFh [from http://twitter.com/kenmat/statuses/3808486211 (tags: tweecious CreativeCommonsLicense CreativeCommons BobDylan RSS UnitedStates WordPress OntheWeb EverythingIsMiscellaneous:ThePoweroftheNewDigitalDisorder) [...]

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