News [metadata] from Porto

    by Martin Moore
    March 4, 2009

    ‘The solution to the overabundance of information’ David Weinberger writes in Everything is Miscellaneous, ‘is more information’. Long live metadata!

    In Porto, I’ve spent the last couple of days at an official IPTC conference (the International Press Telecommunications Council). The folk at the IPTC have been thinking about information and metadata for over 40 years. These are the high priests of news metadata.

    For a long while this was, as you’d figure, rather a minority pursuit (though mighty profitable for those that went to the trouble to do it).


    Now, in our age of ‘infobesity’, it suddenly has significant new relevance and urgency.

    Why? Because describing your content in a consistent, machine-readable way (through metadata) makes searching for it an awful lot easier. It also means you can label it so people know where it’s come from. It also frees up the information so it can be used in creative, unanticipated ways (like journalisted, or dipity).

    Problem is, almost all the rich IPTC metadata is stripped out before it gets to the end user. Once it has served its purpose – i.e. as a means of fast data transfer between different content businesses – the metadata is lost. By the time you and I see an article on a website we’ll be lucky if it even has a date stamp (e.g. see” United Airlines story”:http://www.internetbusiness.co.uk/13092008/how-google-destroyed-1-billion-of-united-airlines/ from last August).


    Should you care? Well, if you want to know when and where a story was first published, yes. If you want to be able to search for stories by a specific journalist, or news organisation, then yes. If you’re interested in knowing where the news you’re reading has come from, then yes.

    Which is why the Transparency Initiative – the MacArthur and Knight funded news project – and IPTC metadata standards, are so complementary. While the IPTC worry about labelling data at source, we’re concerned with how to make sure those labels (or at least those ones that are relevant to the public) don’t get lost along the way. Which is why we’re hoping to work with the IPTC to see how we can retain just a little of this rich metadata and carry it all the way to you and I, the end user.

    This will be in addition to the main aim of the initiative which is looking to create simple conventions for highlighting the basic provenance of a news article in a clear and consistent way – i.e. who wrote it, who first published it, when it was first written, when it was updates, where it was written from (for more see www.newscredit.org).

    By learning from the IPTC’s 40 odd years of experience and working with them make sure news’ basic provenance doesn’t disappear, we hope we can help people find news and assess it more easily – before we all get swamped by the information tsunami.

    • Kristin

      As a nation we have become almost completely dependent on 2.0 and 2.0 uses of technology. An American walking without a cell phone or a household without a computer, or television, a college student without a laptop is nearly unheard of. Many individuals of our nation are conducting research where it is for school, jobs, or pleasure. However, a difficulty we face is whether the information we rely on is reliable. I believe, the Metadata program would enable and secure the reliability of the information. Working with the IPTC is logical, because as the author stated, they have forty years experience in the field, and truly want to make a difference.

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