After a bit of a delay I’m going to wrap up this series tonight. In the last segment, I finished up describing the struggle between file independence and data management, ending with the usefulness of metadata and touching on Cory Doctorow’s dissension on that topic.
I’d rather that readers take some time to read Doctorow’s interesting thesis than for me to repeat too much of the content here, but suffice to say he pokes seven disturbing holes into what he terms “meta-utopia” and as I said previously it isn’t easy to disregard his points. The most troublesome to me concerns the problem of crafting agnostic, universal schemas, which tend to be two-dimensional and thus create difficulties for diverse parties trying to arrive at design consensus. Doctorow correctly points out that data sets and needs tend to be richer than that, extending easily into three dimensions (my extrapolation) in order to properly define any object. Just as databases are better than flat files, data cubes are better still– and there has been work along those lines with XML.
Doctorow ends on a somewhat promising note by admitting that, flaws and all, metadata is still useful. It’s just that those choosing to rely on it as part of any information management or publishing solution need to be aware of the pitfalls going in (his article should be part of the solution design requirements in my opinion).