The meta wars

For all that people are saying 2006 is going to be the year of this or that, I think that 2006 is going to be the year of metadata, and as such, we’re about to see some of the bloodiest battles in blogging. She who controls the metadata rules the world, and if the sly hints and nay saying I’m reading online are but a tip of the iceberg, what isn’t visible would make the US Democrats and Republicans blanch and give fervent thanks that though they may be politicians, at least they aren’t, thank (God | politically correct non-sectarian object of choice), in the metadata business.

The Structured Blogging Initiative made its announcement yesterday, with a rollout of Structured Blogging plugins for WordPress and Movable Type. I’ve been playing around with these in order to create OutputThis and you can see my test weblogs based in WordPress (and here), Blogger Blogspot weblog and Movable Type. I installed the WordPress plugin in the Testing 2 weblog, and have been playing around with the different types of SB types, such as reviews, lists, and so on.

First a disclaimer: as of this morning I no longer work for Broadband Mechanics. I will be working on OutputThis, adding new functionality and making any fixes to make it a true 1.0 production system; however, I am doing so as a volunteer.

To reassure folks, I am not going to starve by making this move, and no, there is no acrimonious relationship between me and the Broadband folks. But I did find myself constrained in what I wanted to write to Burningbird, what I felt should be written; worried that because of my relationship with Broadband, I could be hurting that company with what I wrote. Now, though I won’t divulge any confidences I received during my tenure with the company, I feel anything that’s out in the ‘public domain’ so to speak, is fair game.

The plugins that Phil, Kimbro, Marc, and Chad provided are some fairly sophisticated bits of coding, and add a rather impressive set of editing interfaces to Movable Type and WordPress. I thought the use of XML templates, or Micro Content Descriptors(MCD) in order to drop in a new plugin interface to be both open and clever. In addition the code is open source (GPL), and can even be incorporated into other tools by pulling out the bits and pieces you want.

I’ve long thought of extending my own RDF/XML metadata generation through the use of templates that can be used to generate the content. Though we differ in how we provide the metadata–my system provides the metadata as pure RDF/XML when you attache an ‘/rdf/’ to any of my posts, while SB is embedded–this approach of providing format descriptions is very adaptable.

Will I alter the SB WordPress plugin to work with Wordform (my fork of WordPress)? No, but that’s because I’ve chosen a different direction in how I work with metadata. In the end, with the help of Danny Ayers, RDF/XML can be pulled from the SB effort, which means none of our stuff is incompatible.

As for the criticisms, all were valid but there’s a couple I want to specifically address.

Niall Kennedy mentioned during the presentation that the generated XML/XHTML/RSS didn’t validate. Good point, comparable to all those folks who said that Technorati’s performance sucked, and the results were unreliable. At the time of highest criticism of Technorati, Dave Sifry said, “We will fix it”. Yesterday, Marc Canter and the SB team responded with, “We will fix it.” Isn’t it nice to know both organizations are willing to acknowledge user concern about application problems with a willingness to repair them? Compare this with Google, whose only response to user exclamations of, “It’s broke!” is .

(To hear or see the response, you have to wear magic Google filters in order to pull it out of the aether. I’m thinking of selling mine on eBay, but then you’d have to have a filter to see the filter offered for sale. It’s very tough to make a buck nowadays. What’s a girl to do to earn money for the holidays?)

Stowe Boyd wrote:

My bet is that Structured Blogging will fail, not because people wouldn’t like some of the consequences — such as an easy way to compare blog posts about concrete things like record reviews, and so on — but because of the inherent, and wonderful messiness of the world of blogging…

I am not sure who is benefited if everyone falling into line and adopting consistent standards for the structure of blog posts. Perhaps companies like PubSub — one of the driving force behind all this — who would like to be able to sort out all the blog posts about hotels, gadgets, and wine out there, and aggregate the results in some algorithmic fashion, and then make money from the resulting ratings and reviews. But I am not sure that it would be a better world for bloggers, or even blog readers.

So I favor the microformat approach, which is messy, puts more of a burden on the blogger, and will require a host of tools to be built to make it all work. But microformats will work blot tom-up — tiny little tagged bits of information buried in the blog posts — as opposed to structurally. And I am betting — as always — on bottom-up.

My first reaction was to say that Stow Boyd wouldn’t be able to find a leafy, green vegetable in a field of lettuce, but that wouldn’t be civil and god knows, we all need to be civil.

So instead what I’ll say is that microformats, which are adding tags to existing elements such as links, and Structured Blogging are not an either/or; same as neither is incompatible with my own RDF efforts. All efforts are bottom up; all efforts are top down; all support a semantic web because at some point, someone has to make a decision to attach a bit of metadata to a chunk of web space. How you do so is irrelevant.

I can easily create SB structured content from microformatted data, and generate microformatted data from SB content, and RDF/XML from both. Piece. Of. Cake.

As for Boyd’s rather unsubtle dig at so-called hidden agendas and why is PubSub doing this et al–might as well as why Technorati just started Explore if not to bite itself a piece of that richly tasting, and potentially fruity, semantic web pie.

Four years ago, the name of the game was weblogging; three years ago it was syndication; last year was search engines and this year, podcasting; next year it will be metadata. Companies will fuss and fidget and claim to be first or best, or that they’re only operating in the best interests of us (with an implication that other companies are not). We know better, but we don’t mind because the more dirt they dish up on each other, the more flowers the rest of us can plant.

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