In the spirit of Godwin’s law, I would propose that
“As any discussion about metadata grows longer the probability of a comparison to Google approaches one.”
Of course the comparison is usually that formal metadata is insignificant for the resource discovery needs of most people when compared to Google.
On one hand this is an over simplification: metadata is important for resource management in general not just for resource discovery, the information contained in metadata can be exposed to Google and other search engines, and it helps resource discovery in other ways, for example in displaying relationships between resources that can be browsed and crawled. It remains, however, true that all the effort that has gone into formalising and standardising metadata schema has had little, if any, direct effect on how people find resources through the search engine of their choice. So it’s interesting that the big search engines are now taking an interest in metadata markup of web pages, first with Google’s rich snippets, and now the more extensive (in a number of ways) schema.org initiative. I guess that this approach (that is, marking up the human readable infomation on a web page to show its relationship to a formal metadata schema as opposed to holding it seperately in a purely machine readable format) appeals to search engines because of their suspicion that any information not visible to the reader of a page (e.g. metadata elements in the HTML head element) might be there purely to spam search engine results.
Of course, my interest through CETIS is in educational metadata, and I have already dabbled in using rich snippets to mark-up a description of an educational resource. So I was extremely interested to hear about the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative headed up by Creative Commons and the Association of Educational Publishers, aiming to apply the schema.org approach to educational resources (schema.org initially, with an RDFa expression planned as a secondary output derived from it). I was extremely pleased to be accepted on to the technical working group to help draw up the details. Tomorrow is the first face to face meeting of that technical group, which is why I writing this on a plane on the way to San Fransisco.
While this will be the first face to face meeting, the technical group has made a start on its work. The previous work in educational metadata has been surveyed; use cases for lrmi have been collected, including those which were submitted for the Dublin Core Education Application Profile; and we’ve had a couple of teleconference meetings. It’s early days, so a lot is still open, but this much I can say (but I say it as an individual, I’m not claiming to be reporting any consensus of the working group). The scope of lrmi is resource discovery, and for me it stands or falls on whether it helps discovery through search engines. With respect to this there does already seem to be some uncertainty (generally) over how search engines will use schema.org and how the governance of the main schema.org vocabulary allows for community-driven additions and usage profiles (there is an upcoming schema.org meeting that might help clarify this). However, I guess that in the end it will come down to Google and others using what they find useful and ignoring what that don’t: which isn’t a bad way of establishing an industry standard in this field (I see parallels with browser developers and HTML5). The use cases gathered include the usual discovery issues, so far I haven’t seen anything unexpected, so hopefully the lrmi output will align with other efforts to meet those same scenarios. There is one slight coda to that though, there is a lot of interest in expressing the usefulness of a resource for specific learning objectives as set out in standard curricula. This is largely with respect to showing the alignment of a resource with US state standard curricula, and the US national core K-12 curriculum. I know very little about the US standard curriculum/a, but I do think it is important that (and believe it would be useful) any approach adopted by lrmi to showing this alignment should be usable more generally for, e.g., the English National Curriculum and possibly for wider competency frameworks as used in UK HE for some disciplines (e.g. medecine, Scottish law, engineering). I should stress that, while the level of interest in this is noteworthy, showing such alignments isn’t new: it’s achievable with the LOM (classification with purpose set to learning objective), Dublin Core has had the conformsTo term for showing alignment to an educational standard for a number of years, and it has been discussed for the conceptual model for ISO MLR part 5.
I’ll report more when I am home from the meeting and will, of course, be happy to feed forward any comments you have, but to be kept up to date on all developments and to have a more direct say join the LRMI discussion group.