Metadata is a funny thing

Metadata is a funny thing. It can help you find information, or, if it’s not well chosen, hide it. And of course, we don’t want to hide information, we want to let people find it.

Why then do so many people use metadata so poorly?

In a previous blog entry, I mentioned the problems I have with the category names that booksellers place books in. In particular, what I consider the over-categorization (or in some cases, just weird categorization) of books that I would broadly place into the Science Fiction and/or Fantasy genre.

I see that the metadata that they use under those categories are sometimes no better, or at least, no more helpful.

There is a category of metadata known as keywords. Keywords are designed specifically to help searchers find what they are looking for. So let’s look at the keywords for the same books. This is one of the places where I’d expect to find an authors name. Unfortunately for Gregory Benford, it’s not there.

Under his book, the keywords are pretty sparse, and contain:

  • hard sf
  • high tech
  • science fiction
  • time travel

These are not inaccurate, but someone has done author Charles Stross a better service with their tagging of his book.

Charles’ book is listed under the category of Science Fiction and Fantasy (where I might expect to find it), and his keywords are:

  • science fiction
  • charles stross
  • scifi
  • thriller
  • dystopia
  • bookie
  • hugo nominee
  • novel
  • prometheus award

Now that’s tagging that likely to help me find Charles’ book. It’s a bit more likely to come up in a search. It’s under Science Fiction and Fantasy, it has the keywords “science fiction” (and, for those who prefer “scifi”, scifi), and a couple of relevant awards. I’m sure there could be improvement here, but it’s a step up from the metadata in Gregory Benford’s book listing.

Think long and hard about what metadata you want to populate, and then what information you provide. You can make it easy to find information, or you can make it hard. It’s better to make it easy!

* Yes, I know, Mr. Benford didn’t define the category his book was listed under, so it’s not his fault – but someone put it there!

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