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October 08, 2006

On openness

I had started to compose this post four days days ago and a few hundred miles away, on the morning of the first day of DC-2006, the conference of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, held in Manzanillo, Mexico, on which Andy has already reported. But a combination of the customary whirl of conference activity (somehow in between giving presentations and joining in subsequent discussions, there didn't seem to be much time to write about what was going on) and the intermittent access to the wireless network (the rumour was that the bandwidth wasn't sufficient to meet demand once the Skypesters got going) means that I find myself finishing it only now.

Our outward journey from the UK was unexpectedly extended (there's an opportunity here for a Top 5 Most Confusing Airports list meme, but I think that would be another post - suffice to say that Benito Juarez Airport, Mexico City is right up there on my list), and before the conference proper got under way with its mix of presentations of papers and topic-focussed "special sessions" and meetings of working groups, I had already spent three days in meetings, first of the DCMI Usage Board (as a guest), and then of the DCMI Advisory Board (as a member). So it was a long and at times demanding week, but also, I think, a rewarding and interesting one.

Like Andy, I was pleased to see so many references to the DCMI Abstract Model at the conference, and probably for the first time, I got a sense that it has become "embedded" in the activity of DCMI; awareness and understanding of the DCAM now extends beyond the constituencies of the DCMI Architecture Working Group (who were most closely involved in its development) and the Usage Board (who were probably its first "users"), and several working groups and implementers were citing it as their reference point.

The other topic I found myself pondering both before and during the conference was the question of how DCMI operates in a fast-changing world, how it manages to demonstrate its relevance in new contexts - the world of Google and "Web 2.0" and podcasts and YouTube is a long way from the world of the emerging Web of "document-like objects" in which Dublin Core itself was born, and yet metadata is at the heart of many of these new systems and services -, how it engages with new communities, and indeed how it might encourage members of these communities to become active participants in the work of the DCMI.

Many individuals who were driving forces behind DCMI in the early years of its development have moved on to other areas of interest. Certainly it is true that new participants have come forward and joined working groups and task forces, many of them dedicating large amounts of time and energy to the work of the DCMI. But it seems that they are, for the most part, "people like us" - librarians and other information management professionals. Not that I'm complaining, y'understand - some of my very best friends are librarians and archivists - honest! But how do we reach the people working in areas of social bookmarking or microformats or designing metadata specs for Flickr? And telling them about Dublin Core and explaining its potential usefulness to them is only part of the challenge. How do we provide opportunities for them to feed their insights and experiences in to DCMI? We need to make sure our processes and communities are open and accessible as well as our specifications. That is not to say that we abandon any of the rigour with which DCMI has approached the development of its specifications - far from it: there is much I see that concerns me in the bewildering array of ad hoc APIs and incompatible and less than clearly articulated data models that characterise at least some areas of the "Web 2.0" landscape - but there is undeniably a great dynamism and inventiveness there, which, it seems to me, we need to tap into if we are to continue to develop.

Perhaps another facet of this question - and one which becomes very obvious at conferences held around the globe - is what we do to make those processes and communities open to individuals whose first language is not English, but that is probably a topic for another post.


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How do you reach the Web 2.0 world? Get out there! I've tried to make the argument to the microformats community that they need an hDC, with in general a big ywan of a response. A number of people in that world see DC as simply dated and irrelevant.

To me the DCMI Abstract Model may well be symptomatic of the problem. The document seems to be written for metadata experts; not the hackers that get things done. And it's actually confusing to me (an expert at this point) that the model covers so much of the RDF ground.

It might make more sense to think about greatly simplifying the conventions for encoding RDF (getting rid using blank nodes all over the place), about making a customizable RELAX NG schema availab le for developers that want to use the terms in more XML-oriened workflows, and so forth.

But in any case, getting out there and interacting with the Web 2.0 communities (microformats, Atom, etc.) is probably how you get some traction.

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