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by Jay Fienberg

Trying not be the world's foremost metadata crackpot

posted: Dec 8, 2004 6:56:16 PM

I think it'd be fair to assume, based on this blog (and perhaps even based on some of my other blogs), that I have crackpot tendencies. I do, and I try to keep them in check—I realize there is only so much crackpot anyone can take—even me.

I am a big fan of David Weinberger's work, and think his recent writings about the social-philosophical implications of data about people, which he generally refers to as metadata about people, are very interesting.

But, I'm afraid my inner crackpot is getting the better of me when, every time he writes about metadata, I try to point out that his use of the concept of metadata over-complicates his points, which are basically about what more simply could be called just data (for examples, see my comments on David's blog, and in posts on this site, via this search on my site and this search on David's site).

I basically think David is writing about an important topic, and feel engaged by the writing. But, in order not to become the world's foremost metadata crackpot, I'd really be helped by something like the gestures feature I'm trying to build into the iCite net that would allow me, instead of writing this, to non-verbally link rolling eyeballs and a "what you talking about, Willis" faces to the "implicit metadata" and "explicit metadata" phrases in David's recent Implicit or creepy? post (on Corante's Operating Manual for Social Tools).

Anyway, I'm trying to say less words about this in an effort to not be a total crackpot about it. Other than the metadata phrases, I think David is making interesting and important points. And, definitely check-out danah boyd's follow-up post, Cobot and Data that Matters. (Oh, and how we do appreciate the word data, and not metadata, being in that title.)

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Comment by: David Weinberger ·
posted: Dec 8, 2004 9:35:11 PM

I'm not here suggesting a technical distinction between data and metadata. But the way most of us use the terms (if we do use the terms, which I guess is part of your point), the photo I send to you is the data and the caption is metadata, as is the fact that I sent it at 11:06pm. It's all ultimately data and it's all ultimately bits, but I think that the terms capture useful non-tech distinctions. OTOH, maybe it does just complicate things. On the third hand, it does make me sound like I know what I'm talking about. Until you catch me at it.

Comment by: Jay Fienberg ·
posted: Dec 8, 2004 11:03:43 PM

Thanks for your comment, David.

I guess one I issue I'd suggest then, about your usage of "metadata", is that your points come across as being based a technical distinction between data and metadata, but that distinction isn't being made (at least, not technically).

So, I keep having this response: why is this about metadata? why not just data? where's the distinction?

As I've said, I think you can say what you're saying about data in general (and, say it more simply). So, by what distinction are you saying things about metadata, and not about data in general?

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