You are your metadata: #FutureChat

You are your metadata: #FutureChat

"I love algorithms. They get you so much more of the way there than starting with human search." And a lot of folks who agree with Bowker's Laura Dawson were glad she said that during Friday's #FutureChat with The Bookseller's TheFutureBook.net community. We had arrived prepared by Dawson's comments in our #PorterMeets interview at The Bookseller and by comments she had made in a Writer's Digest Annual Conference presentation in New York City last week. I opened our live discussion with the #FutureChat assembly with some of those figures Dawson always brings along to help us try to get our heads around (or not) the big-number realities being tracked by Bowker today:
  • In 1999, Bowker could identify roughly 900,000 books it its "Books in Print" database. In 2013? -- Bowker saw 28 million titles there.
  • In 2006, "Books in Print" listed 65,000 publishers. In 2013? -- It listed some 517,000 publishers.
  • Today, "Books in Print" can tally roughly 9 million authors -- yes, 9 million -- in its scans.
We were only minutes into our online group conversation when, by contrast, it occurred to me that Twitter was effectively rendering us each as bits of live-exchanged...data. We were rendered only in the tweet-outlines of an avatar, a few words, a hashtag, a couple of @-symbols. And in a similar mode, the way the world knows a book -- finds it, learns more about it, sees its cover, reads its reviews -- all is a function of its metadata. Even its author, as far as what you can learn from, say, sales pages, is projected to the potential reader as a kind of composite of the data entered about him or her. To the world at large? -- we are our data. Dawson of Bowker This was a bit more structured #FutureChat than we normally have, not least because Dawson is a veteran teacher of metadata issues and their importance. It's the kind of subject, however, that defies chit-chat and actually takes an authority to keep it on track, if you will. Today's recap highlights are fewer in number and limited to some of the more solid points made, usually by Dawson, our expert -- that's not because any questions weren't good (far from it) but because recycling confusions (which Dawson was able to sort out for us) can be counter-productive, as you might imagine. For example, at a time when we hear a lot of nostalgic memories of bookstore browsing -- still a perfectly valid way to find new reads, of course -- I was glad to hear Dawson saying: We had begun with some questions about what we mean when we speak of "metadata" in books. Here's Claudia Hall Christian, for example: Dawson makes the point that however much we bookish people may enjoy strolling the aisles of a neighbourhood bookshop these days, the wider reading public is likely to jump online to find something: Since many of us today are discussing the fact that books' main competition is with other media -- film, video, television, gaming -- I asked Dawson if those other media might be more easily found in general Web searches than books: An interesting exchange popped up here between Dawson in New York and Dave McLeod of Reedsy in London: From Ontario, Carla Douglas joined us to ask about the ISNI, which comes under Dawson's purview as director of identifiers for Bowker. The International Standard Name Identifier, or ISNI (say it to rhyme with Disney) is a tracking mechanism devised to connect creative works with their creators. There's information on it here, if you're interested. The ISNI is an important and relatively new identifier with some 7.53 million individual creative workers registered with numbers. One of the uses of it is name disambiguation. (How many John Smiths may be writing books, composing music, painting canvases and choreographing ballet these days?) (The OCLC is the Online Computer Library Center.) In terms of disambiguation of names, Dawson pointed out that even some of the great writers' names can become entangled over time in varied translations: As we talked with Dawson about Schema.org and Thema -- developments in metadata that will bring Web-based categorization and cross-territorial capabilities into play -- writer Camille LaGuire agreed that the "structured content" concept of machine-read data does, in fact, create opportunities for categorization and classification sharing: And as we all left -- smarter about metadata, thanks to Dawson -- a note about special resources from Bowker, which Dawson oversees, for self-publishing writers:
Join us weekly on Fridays for our #FutureChat live Twitter discussion: 4 p.m. London time, 11 a.m. New York time, 8 a.m. Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Berlin, 3 p.m. GMT. Main image - Shutterstock: SolarSeven