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Metadata is monarch

There are two reasons why Content is King. First, it has a nice alliteration. Second, it alliterates on the always-attractive "k" sound. Can't go wrong with that combo. Just ask Kodak.

In fact, however, content isn't king. Content is ore. Metadata is king.

(Metadata is monarch? Still doesn't have the sort of ring that turns a phrase into a rip-roarin' buzz word with the power to daze industry analysts and so befuddle magazine editors that they feature it on the cover.)

As we all know, there's way too much content on the Web. So, the most important information you can have is how to find the useful stuff. Containers of metadata are far more valuable than containers of content.

After all, what differentiates a library from a pile of books? Metadata. The smartest person in the library isn't the professor full of content on the Dutch Tulip Scare or the physiology of Eurasian milfoil. It's the smiling person behind the information desk who may be devoid of all actual content but is full of metadata about how to find actual content.

And what is consistently the most popular site on the Web? Yahoo!, that's who.

This is a big stinking change. Our culture -- when it comes to matters of the intellect -- is built around books. Books are containers of content. In fact, books define expertise: You are an expert if you've written the book, and you are an expert by containing as much information as a book.

Of course, that means that these days, with so much information available on any topic, you can only be an expert in matters that are trivial.

The Web has redefined the value proposition for documents. It used to be that a document got its value from what it contains. Now the most valuable web pages get their value from what they point at.

This is a big change in a book culture.

It changes the way we write. Who'd have thought that the most valuable emergent skill of the professional author wouldn't be the ability to write sentences or structure documents...but would by the ability to compile an index and table of contents?

And it changes a lot else, all the way down to how we teach kindergarten. My son's public school, for example, gave him the assignment of coming up with a question and explaining how he would answer it. His question was "How do electric eels make shocks?" and the answer was: We'd look in a library, in an encyclopedia, on the Web, at the aquarium, etc. Notice the assignment was not to come up with the answer (content) but with the means by which you would answer it. Metadata rulz, even among the five year olds.

Now if we could only put it into an alliterative phrase that starts with "K."


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