The Future of Metadata

February 8th, 2008 by Martin

Back from the Workshop “Metadata 2.0″ in Leuven. Thanks to the organizers and participants for this inspiring event! You find the presented material on the Wiki.

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Yes, of course I had frites in Belgium!

What’s the outcome for me? Well, there’s definitely something going on out there. And most of the people are aware of that. Expert generated metadata - whatever quality they create, and even if it was only considering “objective” metadata - is not a solution for the future. What worked (somehow) for libraries doesn’t work in the same way for digital resources, especially on the Web. The Web is no library. We need new approaches when it’s about to provide information about resources.

The Web is not centralized. And neither should the metadata describing resources on the Web be. I think that Resource profiles as described by Stephen Downes in 2004 are the future of metadata! There is a lot of very valuable information about resources in many places. Distributed, created in different ways, in different formats. This can of course also be expert metadata, but also metadata generated by users or user interactions, usage metadata, automatically generated metadata etc. Yes, it can also be crap. But we are free to choose what we need and what we like. It’s up to us which people and which services we trust! When we look at all the different metadata this way, we have a much better chance to get valid information about what a resource is really about, about how it is used in the community, and about subjective information such as “quality” or “difficulty”.

Of course we can only use metadata about resources when we know that it exists. Maybe someday Google or someone else will provide means as the recently launched Social Graph API to harvest metadata. When we can’t harvest the information ourselves, we need hubs where such information is collected. And because we wanted to have such a hub that also allows to integrate new information, we developed ALOE. Using the Web Interface or the Service API, everybody can contribute information like “x is metadata about y”. Users can either upload the metadata and the resource, or they can just referer to an existing URL. ALOE is a repository and a referatory. Because a simple hub would be quite dead and anonymous, and because we also wanted to encourage users to participate, we developed ALOE as a “social hub”, i.e., it comes with a nice Web interface, you can tag, comment, rate, communicate, join groups…all the social media stuff.

It will be very exciting to see what will happen in the future. And I hope some of the exciting things will happen in ALOE! And this reminds me that I almost forgot that we also have an ALOE Blog, and that I should blog about what we’re currently working on…stay tuned!

“Metadata 2.0″

February 5th, 2008 by Martin

Thanks to Erik Duval and Martin Wolpers, I have the pleasure to give a talk at the Workshop “Metadata 2.0″ in Leuven on February 7th.

The title of my presentation will be ALOE - Combining User Generated Content and Traditional Metadata. I will talk about the ideas that led to the development of ALOE, and about the (potential) benefits of combining different kinds of metadata.

Update: The slides are available at slideshare now


January 23rd, 2008 by Martin

I got an invitation from to give a talk about User Generated Content on Wednesday 30th at the LEARNTEC 2008 in Karlsruhe. You can find an agenda here - it only seems to be available in German, although my talk will be held in English.

It’s always a bit difficult to prepare a talk when you don’t know your audience, whether they are familiar with the concept of user generated content or not. Anyway, I will give some examples, talk about social media and the paradigm shift that we experience, and of course also say a few words about how this influences the way people learn.

Update: The slides are available at slideshare now


November 12th, 2007 by Martin

Yesterday I was visiting the Turner Prize Retrospective In the Tate Britain. And they offered FREE BEER (version 3.2) :

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The recipe and branding elements of FREE BEER is published under a Creative Commons license [Attribution Sharealike 2.5].

This brings a whole new meaning to the words “open content” and “sharing”…cheers! ;-)

Web2.0 at Tate Modern

November 6th, 2007 by Martin

Yesterday I was at Tate Modern, where I could see some great works of Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein (thanks to him, I edited a Wikipedia entry for the first time!), Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and many others. And I really liked this piece of “mashup art”:

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The performance artist Andrea Fraser “created a scrambled remix of Tate Modern’s multimedia tours for the exhibition The World as a Stage“.

Maybe we’re all (more or less good) artists doing mashups and remixing stuff :-)


September 19th, 2007 by Martin

I’m attending the “Web2.0 and Social Software” session. On the presenter’s slides, I always read “Making Semantic Web Real”. I wonder if a lot of the things now claimed to be “Semantic Web” projects really belong to the field. I have the impression that it’s often just a desperate effort to keep the label after the rather slow uptake in the last years. E.g., just using RDF somewhere in an application doesn’t make it a Semantic Web application…

Tim O’Reilly gives a very nice explanation about Semantic Web and Web2.0 in this posting:

And so, it seems to me that Pagerank illustrates the fundamental difference between the approaches of the Semantic Web and Web 2.0. The Semantic Web sees meaning as something that needs to be added to documents so that computers can act intelligently about them. Web 2.0 seeks to discover the ways that meaning has already been implicitly encoded by the way people use documents and digital objects, and then to extract that meaning, often by statistical means by studying large aggregates of related documents.

Don’t get me wrong: Using Semantic Web Technologies is fine when trying to add some more semantics, e.g., to provide recommendations. But we may not rely just on these technologies, we have to develop hybrid approaches in the future. Welcome to Web3.0!

Aggregate displays and collective intelligence

September 9th, 2007 by Martin

Picture by
(Photo by Azlii Jamil)

In his posting “The Danger of Aggregate Displays in Social Software“, Joshua Porter writes about the influence that aggregate displays like “most popular” or “most viewed” can have on what users consider as good or popular. Aggregate displays are also an important factor concerning the creation and exploitation of what is ususally denoted as “collective intelligence“.

A I’ve presented on some of my slides of my talk “Sharing Digital Resources and Metadata for Open and Flexible Knowledge Management Systems” about ALOE at I-KNOW, it’s not sufficient “just” to attract enough users - left alone that this is difficult enough. In his brillant book “The Wisdom of Crowds“, James Surowiecki has identified four key factors that characterize a “wise crowd”:

  1. Diversity of opinion (each person should have some private information)
  2. Independence (people’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them)
  3. Decentralization (people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge)
  4. Aggregation (some mechanism exists for turning private judgements into a collective decision)

What does this mean for an application working based on “collective intelligence”? I think it should

  • encourage users to participate (e.g., by using reward mechanisms)
  • ease the flow of information (e.g., offering users the possibility to import and export data such as their profile or their tags)
  • aggregate information (e.g., offering access to all comments and tags concerning a resource in an easy way and showing average ratings)
  • offer access to the application’s data and functionalities in the user’s usual contexts and applications (i.e., providing a proper API to allow other applications to use the data and functionalities, providing widgets, a drop box on the desktop, …)

But as aggregate displays have an influence on user’s opinions, does this mean that we should avoid to show them to users that will contribute data? Or can there also be a positive impact to a certain extent? Any feedback is very much appreciated!

Supermarket 2.0

March 26th, 2007 by Martin

Great stuff from Israel. It’s really interesting to think about how our behaviour in the web differs from our behaviour in real life…

Of course it’s free…it’s the internet!

[via via]

Want to become a World Record Breaker?

March 6th, 2007 by Martin

Via information aesthetics I read about the One Million Masterpiece today, a very nice idea:

“Get together one million ordinary people from all around the world, and get them to work on the picture together in the world’s largest ever artistic collaboration.”


They explicitly say that

“no artistic ability is required, just passion to support international charity work and a favourite doodle or sketch”

Well, I DON’T have artistic ability, and of course I want to support international charity work. So I contributed this masterpiece - please note that it’s NOT a self portrait ;-)



January 31st, 2007 by Martin


No, I won’t talk here about computer games and violence. The picture is just a cheap trick to gain attention. So please continue reading… ;-)

Egolearner - that’s an expression that turned up last year during a conversation with Stephan Baumann during lunchbreak. And reading the posting Definition: Massively Multi-learner Online Learning Environment (MMOLE) by Karl Kapp [via Stephen Downes], it came back into my mind.

It’s nothing new when I state here that we have to get away from teacher-centric approaches. Of course the learner should have the control, and there are a lot of new possibilites arising in the whole development labeled “Web2.0″. And “computer generated learning environments in which large numbers of learners interact with each other in a virtual three-dimensional (3D) world” (Knapp) may sound futuristic for many people, but for the digital natives, it will be natural to learn in such environments. Let’s see when Blackboard will try to get a patent for such learning environments ;-)