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November 14, 2008

Two drafts from DCMI

Last week DCMI announced the publication of a couple of working drafts.

One is a slightly updated version of the Interoperability Levels for Dublin Core Metadata document that I've mentioned already in some previous posts.

The second is a document co-authored by Karen Coyle and Tom Baker, titled Guidelines for Dublin Core Application Profiles.

I think the work done in the area of DCAPs over the last couple of years, particularly the "Singapore Framework" and the Description Set Profile model, is very important for DCMI, as it (albeit somewhat belatedly!) seeks to clarify what the term "DC Application Profile" really means.

The new draft is intended as a "user guide" to complement the more formal documents: it seeks to explain more fully the nature of the components which make up a DCAP, and describe what is involved in creating those components.

As I think some of the current discussion of the draft on the dc-general Jiscmail list illustrates, like other such "primer" documents, it faces the tension between on the one hand, trying to present some occasionally subtle and complex concepts to a (relatively) broad audience, who approach it from varying perspectives and degrees of experience, and on the other maintaining a level of precision and consistency with some of the more "specialised" sources which it references and builds upon. And I don't envy the authors the challenge of trying to maintain that balance!

I think one of the challenges DCMI faces is the preconception that developing a DC Application Profile is, or should be, "easy". In some cases, yes, it is relatively easy, but it really depends on the sort of functionality one is trying to support with the metadata: relatively simple levels of function can be provided using relatively simple metadata based on a relatively simple DCAP - though even in that case, I'd suggest that the process of arriving at "simplicity" isn't necessarily "easy".

But the DCAP concept supports arbitrary levels of complexity, and as one seeks to provide richer functionality, the requirement for "richer" metadata - more extensive descriptions of a wider range of resources and the relationships between them - typically increases too. As many have realised "Simple Dublin Core" can only get you so far, however much you might try to bend it and stretch it. In the general case, I don't think creating a Dublin Core Application Profile is an "easy" task at all. Or at least it's no more so than, say, designing a relational database schema is: it does require some specialised skills and a grounding in some concepts which may not be familiar to all. So the audience for this document is, I think, still a fairly specialised one. And that's OK.

Which is not to say that DCMI doesn't need to explain those concepts as clearly as possible. And I think the current draft is a very good step towards doing that.

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