Dec 16, 2003

all meta, all the time.

Tom Coates posts a nice response to Jason Kottke's shazizzle about metadata, with a meditation on the sheer quantity of "metadata" that's wrapped up in a simple piece of (snail mail) post...

Over and above the obvious data, there are textures, sensations, handwritings, stamps and fragments of information that all have a bearing on how we read the almost trivially information-sparse chunk of scrawl that's actually supposed to be 'the message in itself'. A single romantic letter dribbles metadata out of every flat, folded, ink-inscribed surface, and we assimilate it and operate with without the slightest concern for the amount of contextual information that we're being forced to ingest.

Coates goes on to lament that the problem isn't too much metadata, but rather a paucity of tools to help us manage it...

We're stuck in a middle-period between the emergence of useful computer processing power and the computer's upcoming ability to self-annotate, transcribe and create metadata simply, elegantly (and in vast amount) in the background all the time.

While we're definitely lacking decent user interfaces for creating metadata (where the perfect UI, as Coates points out, would be hardly any at all), the thing that struck me about Jason's post was the sheer lunacy of the information design of those metadata overfizzled screencaps. The struggle to organize one's work doesn't need to de-emphasize the work itself; instead, it becomes a presentation issue -- how to create user experiences that focus the reader on the content at hand while presenting appropriate options for metadata usage in the appropriate context. Skimming, reading, responding, connecting. This is easier said than done, of course.

It's not necessarily that we're writing love letters in Excel. It's that sometimes we're stuck reading them in Access.