I attended the Partnering for Innovation event in London yesterday, organised by the Technology Strategy Board (http://www.innovateuk.org/) which is a QANGO sponsored by the Department for Business, full event details can be found at: http://creativeindustriesktn.org/beacons/. This is one of a series of events around funding for innovative metadata projects – there is £5m of investment up for grabs the government feels that metadata is such an important topic. (Full details of the competition for collaborative R&D funding can be found at: http://www.innovateuk.org/content/competition/metadata-increasing-the-value-of-digital-content-f.ashx). 

Alex Stanhope – Lead Technologist for the Technology Strategy Board spoke (video interview can be viewed here http://chinwag.com/blogs/sam-michel/video-interview-alex-stanhope-tsb-18m-collaborative-rd-fund) on the broader rationale about why metadata is important from the Government’s perspective; currently creative industry in the UK generates 6-7% of GDP – the concern is in an ever more digital environment whether this can be sustainable. The concept here is that metadata is the best way to monetise the UK’s existing digital assets, the competition is not about creating new content (there is one for that next year budget allowing) rather connecting and creating revenue streams from the existing ones. Metadata is about building relationships between disconnected data - producing value in connections.

Putting money into metadata projects that realise new businesses or enable monetisation of metadata will then earn further tax for the UK – which is how the government plans to recoup their investment.

Interestingly he said that the greatest risk for content producers isn't rights, it's obscurity (almost word for word what Cory Doctorow said http://boingboing.net/2006/02/14/why-publishing-shoul.html - “That's because my biggest threat as an author isn't piracy, it's obscurity. The majority of ideal readers who fail to buy my book will do so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free electronic copy.” )

The next speaker was Simon Hopkins from Unthinkable Consulting who talked about the fact that pre-internet there were traditional gatekeepers for media consumption, for example publications like the NME used to write about music from a particular point of view, and people read about more music (and film, books etc) than they ever actually had access too. The new gatekeepers are those who can make the best connections between data – for example Amazon for its’ recommends, Spotify and Last FM. There are opportunities to express this ‘consumption data’ in interesting ways e.g. http://liveplasma.com/ .

Next up was Chris Thorpe from Jaggeree and his focus was on use of content and how we access it – so, for example, he wanted access to the Thames Television indent but no TV company offered any licensing or legitimate access so he had to get it from other web users. His contention here was that pirating and user generated content fills the gaps where the rights owners fail to offer the right thing. He sees a great deal of content on the web but much of it is isolated and dispersed consequently we live in the age of ‘point-at-things’ (he recommended the book Small Pieces Loosely Joined http://j.mp/dyth2X), we need grown-up metadata to describe these better, becoming a semantic web. The semantic web is a way for people to set data free and allow other people to make more of it that you could – he expressed this with a few pleasingly pithy comments such as:

“...if you create and publish metadata and let people use it they will create new and amazing things”

& “people who use your data know your future business better than you do”

He argued that metadata is a new material we're only starting to learn to mould and sculpt, for example when the Guardian made it’s API available they had no idea that one of the first things it would be used for would be an obscenity tracker http://bit.ly/ax6oGT.

For me metadata is one of the most exciting things that the book industry has to play with online, we have access rich content and fantastic cross web information to support titles, that we don’t currently exploit. There have been some attempts within the trade to formally look at how to make connections between metadata, the ISTC project for example (http://www.bic.org.uk/34/News-and-Events/) however these tend to be quite controlled and don’t allow the data to be set free and for people to make new and exciting connections.

The hashtag for the event was #tsbmeta http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23tsbmeta