The language of metadata
The first in a series of insights about metadata; the challenges, how to use it to your advantage manage it over time.
Why do we all get so confused about metadata – after all it’s really just words, right?
Right! But how many different ways are there to describe the same thing and how many variations can there be on the spelling and format of those words?
Exactly! Variations can be attributed to many factors including the language being spoken, dialects reflecting local vernacular, colloquialisms and contractions. Even such things as location, frame of mind and whether the situation is formal or casual can affect how we describe things.
How many of us revert to the linguistic style of the people we are associating with at any given time in order to be understood or accepted as part of the “gang”?
Our language is rich and diverse and using terms that are part of the common vernacular in one country can lead to embarrassing misunderstandings in another.
Take this example:
Thong (plural: thongs)
A strip of leather.
(UK, US, New Zealand) An undergarment or swimwear consisting of very narrow strips designed to cover just the genitals and nothing more.
(Australia, US) An item of footwear, usually of rubber, secured by two straps mounted between the big toe and its neighbour.
(a undergarment or swimwear): G-string
(an item of footwear): flip-flop, jandal
Inconsistencies arise because language is used in so many ways:
- as an expression of social behaviour where it operates to differentiate between social groups, and
- as a business tool for describing information resources so that we can discover, manage and dispose of them. Within the business context, language needs to be consistent and precise.
Our challenge is how best to manage the richness and diversity of the English language (with all it’s synonyms, homonyms, abbreviations, acronyms, formats, plurals and misspellings) as a tool for describing information resources in the business environment with consistency and precision.
Our next insight will look into the means by which we can meet this challenge when using language as metadata in a business context.