First, a meta-conversation about metadata. What is it? “We’re going to be challenging your ideas about what metadata is.” Metadata is… a diamond, with many facets. Hm. Yet another statement that “metadata is boring”; I suppose it is in general, but when it comes to my own book how its described is important, no? Metadata is the information about your book, its title and other basic information, but also the information buyers need to decide whether to buy it, and for librarians and retailers to know how to categorize it (preview content, how I can share it, what devices can read it, etc.).
Metadata has become the way that the post-publication life of a book is managed. Print on Demand means disruption; errata fixes have usually been tied to reprints. But with e-Books updates can be pushed out any time. So, metadata gets used to manage the process; keep track of versions, editions, updates, publication dates, etc. O’Reilly delivers each of its books in 30 different ways (print, schools, web, apps, e-books, etc.).
The standard for how books are described in book sales is ONIX, now in version 3.0 (most ONIX data is still in 2.0). The standard way to note your book information with an ePub is using (in ePub 3) what is called “Dublin Core“; a set of information pieces first put together by librarians as a way to agree on what information they needed to shelve their books.
Ok, now it’s getting interesting: The OPDS (Open Publication Distribution system) is a way to re-create, in an open-standards way, what Amazon (and Apple and Barnes and Noble) offer: an effortless way of reading about a book and getting it. It’s “RSS for ePub”; a way of making a public catalog for your books that can be browsed with e-book readers, so that people can see and buy books directly (but in a way that is not tied to one particular company). Aldico for Android devices can browse and purchase via this format. “My favorite part of it is that I don’t lose 30%” (the cut that Amazon would usually take for acting as the store).
Now, on to “customer created metadata”; ratings, reviews about your book. Yelp has replaced the yellow pages as the main way that customers access your business information, but you don’t control it. At GoodReads and LibraryThing there are active communities of readers who are reviewing your books. Sort of the equivalent of usage stats info that website owners get, for books. Kindle’s “Public notes” is an example, but the information that readers are adding is locked away from me as the book publisher or author. Scribd serves stats for all their documents, but as an author or publisher I want to know what chapters or pages are most read, etc. An open standard/spec for book reviews (isn’t hReview sort of that already, and in search-engine indexable fashion?).
The term “metadata” seems to be a great way of disguising extremely important information and issues. Everyone says it’s ‘boring.’ But it seems to be all about the most critical stuff. Hm. Maybe if it was called “Pop Up Video” or “Director’s Commentary” people would see it for what it is (same idea basically!)?