The Old Scholar's Historical Thoughts

November 1, 2009

Scarcity and Abundance – Do we really need to tag our data?

Filed under: Readings — theoldscholar @ 3:28 pm

Like usual we have an abundance of material and a scarcity of time to process it all. The only way New Media changes the equation is now ABUNDANCE is in capital letters and time is in subscript. Much of the readings are right down my alley. They explain the need for tagging of data and what it can be used for. Of course the readings also ask the question “Do we really need to expend all of this effort?”

There is something to be said for the old stubby pencil solution. I currently work on a project where the customer wants a process automated. So far they have spent 7 million dollars on the development of a web based automated system. I showed them that they could get the same functionality by hiring 4 people who updated by hand. The automated system will need maintenance of about $250,000/year and will probably need to be replaced in 10 years. Even if the total cost was $100,000 per year per person, it would be cheaper doing it manually than automating it. Just because something CAN be done, does not mean it SHOULD be done.

Now that I got that off my chest, how does that relate to tagging for media on the web. I guess the biggest thing I can say is I don’t know what the long term benefits would be. If you would have asked someone 20 years ago how putting a Universal Product Code (UPC) on every item would be beneficial they would not have dreamed of an iPhone app which allows you to find the cheapest place to purchase something. Not only that, but I’m sure the Department of Defense did not envision GPS being used to hook into the iPhone app to know where you were when you asked the question so the app could tell you the closest place where the item is the cheapest. However, if products weren’t tagged with UPC codes and GPS data was not available through web services, this functionality would not work.

I have been thinking of Terese’s project of providing resources for teachers. If every teacher who used the web, and every software program that allowed teachers to create lesson plans, syllabi, and web sites, included the tagging the suggested age group or grade their work was aimed at, Terese could easily create a service that gathered that information and presented it to her users. You can’t do a Google search on”9-12” and hope you get information about class room work aimed at 9 to 12 year olds. How do you know “9-12” doesn’t mean grades 9 through 12? But Terese can’t tag her information with the keyword and someone else tag with the keyword . The computer needs some standards so programs can find and provide the right data. Google had an interface that allowed CHNM to provide this type of content, but once they removed their API that function no longer works. If everyone played well together the information would still be available.

Krista had a post about the need for curation, because, as the link she posted, said, ”Presenting endless volumes of content is no longer the defining characteristic of a good digital publisher. Instead, the core competency must shift to presenting the most relevant information.” Tagging allows a site to provide this context. I recommend you read her post and her link.

So getting back to the theme for this post. With tagging, we can allow computers to assist in figuring out the context of information, which the authors themselves provide. Without tagging we are forced to wade through hundreds and thousand’s of links returned by Google using their algorithms, over which we have no influence. If we want to help future scholars use our work, we need to provide the context for it.


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