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angela talk, day three

(continued imaginary conversation between Angela Tesoro and Timothy Falconer, now sitting in her office in front of her computer)

Angela: Yesterday at lunch you were telling me the world needs more metadata, and that metadata is a kind of one-off description of “real” data. What I don’t understand is why this is new. Isn’t just about everything we do with computers related to metadata? My friend Julie uses annotation in Word all the time. And isn’t every form we fill out on the web like this? I type in “Angela Tesoro” in the “Name” field. Isn’t “Name” meta to “Angela”?

Timothy: I can see you’ve been thinking about this.

Angela: (smiles) Yeah, well, they want a lot of money.

Timothy: You’re right mostly. “Data about data” has been around forever. The new part is how we’re gonna use metadata on the Web. Before we get into that, though, let’s step back a bit and talk about the web as it is now. Go ahead and open up your personal home page.

Angela: Okay, but it’s not that great. There.

Timothy: Great picture. Now this page has already been marked up, but it’s not the Semantic Web kind of markup. Choose “View / Page Source” from the menu bar. There. That’s HTML, which means the HyperText Markup Language. Those things between the angle brackets are called tags. They’re data about data, but here it’s used mostly to tell the web browser how things should look. See those <b> tags? That makes your company name bold. Those <i> tags make your email italic.

Angela: What about <title>?

Timothy: Very good. That’s not just about looks. That’s more “meta”, more “semantic”. It tells the browser the title of the page, just like a subject on an email.

Angela: What about these <meta> ones? Are these Semantic Web things?

Timothy: Your quick! In a way, they are, or at least they were the only game in town when this page was made. One of them gives a general description of the website. The other gives some keywords appropriate to the website, like “women” and “fitness” and “workout”. These are used by the search engines to help people find you.

Angela: Wow, I didn’t know this was in here. So your saying if I type in “fitness” in a search engine, my website will show up because of these keywords.

Timothy: Well, it’d show up, but you’d probably have to do a lot of digging. You see, search engines aren’t very good at drawing fine distinctions. They just look at the raw text. If you were researching backyard whirlpools, you’d have to wade through a lot of stuff about the company named Whirlpool. There’s currently no way to say “ignore the company”, because search engines don’t even know that Whirlpool is the name of a company. They don’t know that in some cases, Whirlpool means “name of company”.

Angela: Again with the semantics. I think I see where this is going. I hate to do this, but unfortunately, I gotta run. More tomorrow?

Timothy: See you then.

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