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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Shouldn't Metadata Be Everywhere?

Today, debates about metadata protocols seem to move glacially. But the need for much more labeling of business objects (like products) is getting more pressing as the search metaphor leaks into everyday life, and as we get more used to finding what we need, assessing suitability of products, etc., on demand.

There has been a little debate at Search Engine Watch Forums ("Can Tagging Help Search?") about participant-driven tagging, such as the tags users of Flickr, the photo-sharing service, arbitrarily put on their photos to help like-minded people who might be searching for certain images.

Online, we have these opportunities some of the time. Offline, not so much. That will change.

When I buy a bottle of wine at WineryToHome.ca, I'm a relative genius. Product descriptions and reviews by well-known experts are available. It's a superior shopping experience. I nearly never wind up "stuck" with some random bottle I didn't really want.

Not so when I walk into my local LCBO bricks-and-mortar store. Half the time, I get sucked into something just because it's on the shelf and the description on the bottle looks interesting. But there might have been something else even more interesting nearby. Because I can't perform a search, I'm wasting money on second-rate products without the benefit of a review or rich descriptions of the product. Let's say I was Niles Crane and I knew exactly what kind of red wine would go well with that garlic-infused lamb shank Daphne had in the oven. I knew that I wanted a bottle between $20 and $30, from California, with certain other characteristics, one of them being "syrupy" and the other being something like "cloves" thrown in just for the heck of it. If every bottle came loaded up with a rich set of metadata put together by the vendor in concert with an approved scheme of "telling the truth in winemaking" standards (rogue vendors who didn't accurately describe accurately would not be 'certified' for that particular search), I could run down a list of ten options and be reasonably certain I'd made the right decision.

Wouldn't that be empowering? Would the average consumer spend more, or less, if armed with such knowledge? It would be interesting to find out.

In our next instalment, Andrew tries to find a certain type of rake in a large home improvement store without asking anyone for help. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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