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October 23, 2008

Thoughts on DC-2008

A somewhat belated report on my time at the DC-2008 conference of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative in Berlin a couple of weeks ago.

I travelled ahead of the conference itself in order to attend the meeting of the Usage Board held over the weekend. I've attended a few UB meetings previously as a "guest", but this was the first one I'd attended as a member. I think it was a reasonably productive meeting: thanks to Tom Baker's ever-efficient chairing, we managed to get through the agenda and make a few decisions, even if at least one of them involved passing on the issue to someone else to deal with!

As I already mentioned, I gave a tutorial presentation on the Monday, focusing mainly on the DCMI Abstract Model, with a short section on syntaxes for representing DC metadata. I was horribly nervous about it, probably more so than for any other presentation I've done, in the last few years anyway, partly because of the amount of material I was trying to cover, and partly because some of the topics have, from past experience, proved to be quite difficult to explain - but I think it went OK in the end. It was the second of four tutorials, the others given by Jane Greenberg, Mikael Nilsson and Marcia Zeng. The conference has traditionally included a set of tutorials, and I think this was the second occasion on which they were all presented in sequence on the same day, rather than one per day at the start of the day. This arrangement, with its juxtaposition of content from several different presenters, and a higher probability that the same audience will sit through them all, did bring home to me the importance of ensuring that the presentations form a coherent "whole", that we have a shared foundation, and particularly that we use terminology consistently. I think we just about managed it this time, but the eagle-eyed observer may have spotted a few points where the messages were a bit mixed or where we used different terms for the same concept.

The conference proper featured the usual (for DCMI) combination of keynotes, papers and workshop sessions. The conference theme was "Metadata for Semantic and Social Applications"and there were several papers on topics related to the Semantic Web and "Linked Data", as well as some on "tagging", though, perhaps slightly disappointingly, few that I can recall on other dimensions of metadata use in "social software". In comparison with last year's conference where the "Singapore Framework" model for DC Application Profiles came to provide something of a recurring motif, it was less clear to me that there was a "dominant" theme at DC-2008. The paper on interoperability levels was referred to a few times, but if there was a running theme, I think it was probably a renewed emphasis on the Web. The paper presentation I probably enjoyed most was a paper by Stuart Sutton & Diny Golder, where Stuart described their experience of modelling educational achievement standards and exposing data based on that model on the Web. IIRC, Stuart concluded by saying something along the lines of "Probably the most important thing we did was to clarify the things we were interested in and assign them all dereferenceable URIs" - where, in this case, the "things of interest" included not just "documents" but "statements" within those documents. Such themes were echoed in the keynote by Paul Miller, with his emphasis on Berners-Lee's "Linked Data" principles and the emergence of the "Linked Open Data" community.

And I think that emphasis is important for DCMI. The recent focus within DCMI on conceptual frameworks for DC metadata - the DCAM, the Description Set Profile model and the Singapore Framework - has, I think, been necessary, and indeed those frameworks are designed to be grounded in the Web. But it's good to be reminded that our applications are operating within the context of the Web, and, to quote from a slide by another presenter, Ed Summers, who was in turn referencing Paul Graham, we need to ensure our implementations are "aligned with the grain of the Web" - and I'd probably add, for the DCMI case, with the "grain" of other related developments going on around us, such as the work on Linked Data.

And going back to the topic of the tutorials for a moment, I think it would probably be helpful if we can find some way of establishing some of these fundamental principles in that context too.

I admit I was slightly disappointed that, in at least some of the workshop sessions, we didn't really seem to get to the point of advancing the work of the group very much. But perhaps that is inevitable: I think there has always been a tension in these sessions between a desire on the one hand to provide enough background that they are open to newcomers and serve almost as a specialised tutorial, and on the other to focus in on specific issues and try to find resolutions to specific problems or at least plan out how to do so.

Away from the formal sessions, it was good to meet some people with whom I'd previously had exchanges only in weblog comments, by email or on Twitter, as well as to catch up with old friends.

And as I kinda expected, I enjoyed Berlin a lot: for a European capital city, it felt a very relaxed and welcoming place, as well as a lively and interesting one, and I hope I'll be able to visit again.

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